Europe–Japan. Futures in Science, Technology and Democracy by Vincent J. McBrierty

By Vincent J. McBrierty

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It is not fanciful to state that the emerging technologies could also permit and encourage a transformation of our economic, social and political system. From a deeply hierarchical system with a tendency to bureaucratization, our institutional framework could become more flexible and participatory, characterized by easier intercommunication and freer and more rapid exchange of opinions in continuing political debate. This could be another facet of the process of decentralization made possible especially by the information technologies.

Rather, our efforts must be directed at strengthening basic research which prepares the ground for future technology. Management of research and development will have to be improved along with more effective coordination among industry, universities and governmental institutes in order to give researchers greater opportunities to demonstrate their creative capability. In discussing the impact of science and technology on society, the Agency emphasized that the application of new technologies requires appropriate advanced assessments, with timely reviews; that ways should be found to deepen people's understanding of science and technology (for example, 'science play parks' and exhibitions, such as Expo '85 in Tsukuba); and that practical and autonomous codes of conduct should be developed for research programmes, particularly in the life sciences (typically, in regard to organ transplants and in vitro fertilization).

Market mechanisms alone may not be enough. In Europe, active intervention seems unavoidable: this should be in the form of support, financial and otherwise, to innovative enterprises; measures that favour industrial risk-taking; investment projects incorporating new technologies, such as optical fibre cabling and so on. Furthermore, in a "dematerialized" economy, paramount importance must be given to non-material investment. Major high-tech companies already spend far more on non-material investment than they do on traditional capital investment.

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