Sci & Tech Lecture 1 The Impact of Science and Technology
Paper 1 Content Knowledge & Evaluative Strategies
Student should be able to understand –
1. The scope, definitions and impact of Science and Technology
- How can Science and Technology solve, not solve, and create new issues with global problems
- Why Science and Technology’s limitations are dependent on other factors
Sections and Glossary
|1.0 Sci and Tech has solved global problems||2.0 Sci and Tech cannot solve certain global problems||3.0 Sci and Tech creates new conundrums||4.0 Evaluation of Sci and Tech|
Definitions and General Observations
Science is the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment.
Technology is made possible by science. Technology is the application of scientific knowledge for practical purposes, especially in industry, with machinery and devices developed from scientific knowledge, the branch of knowledge dealing with engineering or applied sciences.
Scientific and Technology is a double-edged sword, and as we continue to push the boundaries of science, this sword grows ever sharper and more lethal. Just as easily as it carves out a new utopia for mankind and solves all its problems, it might also deal humanity a fatal wound. In some instances, the impact of technology has been harmful, or the long-term effects give cause for serious concerns.
A considerable measure of public mistrust of science and fear of technology exists today. Particularly among those who are not adept with the advances thus far.
At the same time, it is also important to recognise the differing views (and struggles to adapt) especially with the prevalence of technology in our lives for those who are digital immigrants (born before the digital world is embedded into daily lives), and digital natives (you, and those born with tech in their hands and in their daily lives).
1.0 Science and Technology, with its developments has solved longstanding global problems
At a glance:
|1.2 Environmental Issues|
|1.3 Food Security and Global Hunger|
|1.5 Security Threats|
|1.6 Economic Development|
|1.7 Human Rights|
- The development of vaccines and their distribution and use in the past century has led to the complete eradication of some diseases.
Edward Jenner’s discovery of the vaccine against smallpox (a disease that claimed millions of lives for over many centuries) has resulted in smallpox to be eradicated as a disease in 1980. Diseases such as polio have also been crushed, only existing in a few isolated enclaves around the world.
Similarly, countries have turned to the COVID19 vaccines and its booster jabs as a solution to the virus.
- The lack of clean water is a problem which has confronted humanity for centuries. From deadly cholera outbreaks in 19th century London, to the water crisis that the city of Flint, Michigan (USA) faced in 2014, to wells contaminated by faecal matter in African villages, water is an issue that is faced by not only less-developed countries, but wealthier countries as well.
Developments in filtration technology have allowed people to gain access to clean water, with chlorine tablets and activated carbon filters available at a low cost. With a greater emphasis on providing cheaper alternatives to existing solutions on the market, scientific and technological advances are enabling clean water to become more accessible to everyone.
According to UNICEF (2017), 3 billion people (71% of the global population) used safely managed drinking water services, meaning a source of drinking water accessible on premises, available when needed and free from contamination. Yet 785 million people still lacked even a basic drinking water service relying on either distant (over 30 mins roundtrip) or unimproved sources to meet their household needs. 4 billion people (45%) used a safely managed sanitation service, that is, a sanitation facility with excreta safely disposed of in situ or treated off-site.
More than 1,300 children die every day of diarrhoea caused by unsafe water and improper sanitation. WaterAid, an organisation dedicated to providing access to safe water and sanitation, writes that access to safe water would not only slow such diseases, but would also return an average of $4 of increased productivity per dollar invested. Practical Action, for example, partnered with Kenyans from the dry, arid Turkana region to develop a solution to the area’s drought problems. The organisation developed a solar-powered water pump, which uses locally sourced equipment to pump 30,000 litres of clean, safe water to the village every day.
- In the University of California, Students are working on a drug called Enantercept which could potentially cure Alzheimer’s disease which affects over 35 million people worldwide and the number of patients would be expected to increase with the rise of aging populations in Japan, the United Kingdom and Taiwan (American Academy of Neurology, 2015).
- Stem cell research offers unprecedented opportunities for new treatments, particularly for debilitating diseases with few or little cures. For example, experimental stem cell therapy has helped the likes of Kristopher Boesen regain his arms and hands after being paralyzed (Discover Magazine, 2019). Stem cell research has heralded many medical ‘miracles’ that were previously viewed as feats which cannot be accomplished. The most stunning results of stem cell research were reaped when a paralysed Korean woman was able to move with the aid of a walker, three months after scientists injected stem cells into her spinal cord (Asian Journal of Neurosurgery, 2017).
- Prosthetic limbs and body parts have been used for some time to replace missing body parts, and yet with technology, Robotic prosthetic limbs and organs are rapidly developing. The John Hopkins Applied Physics Lab, for example, is testing a mind-control robotic prosthetic, which allows the patient, Johnny Matheny, to move his prosthetic fingers individually, just by thinking about it (Quartz, 2018).
- Robotic Surgery is also developing quickly, where the surgeon controls a surgical robot to operate on patients. This technology allows minimal incisions for greater recovery, with the surgeon being able to view more detailed views of the operation, and the surgeon’s fatigue during operations minimised (The New Yorker, 2019, ‘Paging Dr. Robot’). In 2019, Singapore’s heart surgeons were the first in South-East Asia to use robot assistants in heart surgery (Straits Times, 2019).
- During the coronavirus period, China also deployed disinfecting robots, smart helmets, thermal camera-equipped drones and advanced facial recognition software in the fight against Covid-19 at the heart of the outbreak in China (BBC, 2020).
1.2 Environmental Issues
- Traditional sources of energy such as fossil fuels are non-renewable and polluting, and technological development in clean technology, renewable energy and energy efficiency improvements have helped to reduce environmental impacts. The Guardian (2019) reports that renewable energy sources make up 29 percent of the world’s electricity today (2021), and according to the International Energy Agency (IEA), its share is expected to reach 30 percent by 2024. In Singapore, 95 percent of energy is generated using natural gas, the cleanest form of fossil fuel.
- A rapidly warming planet is one of the greatest threats today, but a wide array of technological measures for climate change adaptation and mitigation can help the transition from carbon-intensive growth, towards more sustainable and resilient development. Numerous technologies have been shown to help mitigate and address these effects, such as innovations in sustainable fishing; enhanced surveillance of ocean acidification, and environmentally-sensitive forms of pollution prevention and clean-up.
- The SMARTFISH H2020 project is an international research project that aims to develop, test and promote a suite of high-tech systems using technologies which exploit machine vision, camera technology, data processing, machine learning, artificial intelligence, LED technology and acoustics, for the EU fishing sector. It allows firms to optimise resource efficiency, improve automatic data collection, provide evidence of compliance with fishery regulations, and reduce the ecological impact of the industry. (SINTEF, 2020).
- Technological developments in architecture and green technology have enabled the creation of net-zero buildings. Net-zero buildings are buildings that are highly energy efficient, fully powered from on-site or off-site renewable energy sources such as solar panel roofs, as well as featuring technologies to conserve electricity such as the use of a hybrid cooling system, double-insulated windows, use of plants on the building façade to cool the buildings, and architectural design to maximise ventilation and natural lighting. When conditions are not suitable for energy generation, the building will draw energy from the electrical grid to meet its needs. When conditions improve, the onsite renewable energy system will cover the energy needs, and send excess energy back to the grid to make up the balance. Over the course of the year, the building gives back as much as it takes.
- Some examples of net-zero buildings and neighbourhoods around the world include: School of Design and Environment 4 (SDE4) at the National University of Singapore, Punggol Eco-Town, Unisphere building in Maryland, USA, as well as Vastra Hamnen (also known as the City of Tomorrow) in Malmo, Sweden, which is the first carbon-neutral neighbourhood in Europe (National Geographic, 2012). It has enabled us to transcend the previously limiting mutually exclusive interests of furthering economic development and protecting the environment.
- An average of 70 percent of the world’s water goes towards irrigation of crops, partly because some areas still use wasteful flood irrigation. Israeli ag-tech companies such as CropX, Saturas, Manna and SupPlant help customers across the world to implement efficient drip irrigation programs which use less water and produce more and better crops. This involves a micro-irrigation system that allows water to drip slowly to the roots of plants either from above the soil surface or buried below the surface. The goal is to allow water to directly enter the root zone to minimise water wastage and evaporation.
- Many green innovations have emerged such as Tesla's electric car, as well as various electric vehicles or hybrids, which guarantees zero carbon footprint. In Singapore, BlueSG’s electric vehicles serve as an eco-friendly way of car sharing. As Singapore’s Land Transport Authority’s pilot programme on a national level, there will be 2000 BlueSG charging points at 500 charging locations in Singapore by the end of 2020 (Asiaone, 2020).
- Not only that, solar and hydroelectric power are all alternative sources of energy that have shown tangible potential to be able to replace environmentally detrimental practices of using fuel energy. In this way, even though scientific advancements have created new problems in its place, there seems to be still a glimmer of hope that science and technology can be the answer to our problems. According to Bloomberg, Clean Energy Investment is set to hit $US2.6 trillion this decade, and this is a result of a boom in the capacity to generate electricity from low carbon sources. With falling costs of wind and solar power plants, more projects in the market are now economically competitive with the generation fed by fossil fuels (Bloomberg, 2019). Solar Power and other green technologies are also taking over from traditional energy sources. Germany, for example, has been hailed as the ‘world’s first major renewable energy economy’, with renewable electricity reaching 36.2% of consumption by the end 2017.
- With technology, development of hydrogen-fuelled cars became feasible. Hydrogen-fuelled cars run on an electric motor, like a battery electric car, but the motor is powered by the chemical reaction of hydrogen and oxygen in an on-board fuel cell, that do not require the use of fuels that would otherwise produce harmful pollutants if burnt to generate energy These environmentally friendly cars only produce water which is a non-waste product, reducing environmental pollution. Electric cars have also been developed with technology advancements. Environmentally friendly vehicles like electric cars use clean fuel such as hydrofuel. Studies show that in some cases, certain plug-in electric vehicles that pull electricity from gas-fired plants produce up to 60 percent fewer emissions than a conventional car with an internal combustion engine.
1.3 Food Security and Global Hunger
- More than 800 million people, or 11 percent of the world’s population, are suffering from chronic hunger. After a decade-long fall in global hunger levels, the United Nations announced last year that the number of people going to bed hungry is steadily rising (WHO, 2018). Despite enough food being produced every year to feed all people on the planet and more, a small but substantial amount of this is wasted, even in developing countries.
- From using agricultural devices connected to the Internet of Things (IoT) to gain insight into crop health in a bid to improve yield quality, to reducing the quantity of lost and damaged foodstuffs by implementing IoT monitoring devices in the entire distribution ecosystem, IoT solutions can offer data-driven insights and play a role in eliminating world hunger. According to business information provider IHS Markit, the total number of IoT devices is forecast to reach 125 billion in 2030, up from 27 billion in 2017, creating an IoT network with unprecedented coverage levels. Sharing real-time data about urgent food requirements and wastage will make the distribution of limited food supplies as effective as possible.
- Genetically modified (GM) food has been hailed as the solution to world hunger. GM food involves inserting DNA into the genome of plant cells, which are then grown in tissue culture where they develop into plants. It is cheaper to produce, more resistant to extreme weather conditions than non-GM crops and exists as a more nutritious alternative to organically grown produce. It can be produced in huge quantities without any worries of crop failure.
Since 1998, South Africa has embraced many different variants of GM maize, to meet severe shortage of this staple food production, caused by poor weather and drought. Almost 90 percent of maize harvested in South Africa is genetically modified (The Guardian 2016). In 2019, the Nigerian government was reported to have approved the commercial production of biotech cowpea, an important staple crop in sub-Saharan Africa, serving human consumption needs as well as being a good source of quality fodder for livestock. Cowpea farmers had previously faced a challenge with a traditionally low yield factor due to its susceptibility to many insect pests at different stages of its production cycle (Reuters, 2020).
Thus, it is feasible to manufacture GM food on a scale that is large enough to provide for Earth’s booming population. The process of manufacturing GM food involves crossbreeding various plants until a desired species is obtained. GM food technology eliminates the trial and error involved, as well as the long gestation period.
Scientists have engineered a strain of ‘golden’ rice that is able to produce vitamin A. Not only is it cheap, but the hardy crop is also more resistant to extreme weather conditions than other rice plants. Yet, due to ethical concerns, as a genetically modified organism, it was weighed down with all the political, ideological, and emotional baggage that has come to be associated with GMOs—stultifying government overregulation, fear and hostility, and criticism (much of it unfounded) from environmentalist and other activist organizations and individuals. Greenpeace, for one, was especially vocal in its condemnation of genetically engineered foods, Golden Rice in particular (Foreign Policy, 2019).
- Technology can also be harnessed to meet other challenges concerning food security, especially in terms of space constraints, climate-related issues, or the lack of arable land. Agro technology is a nascent industry which focuses on how technology can be better harnessed to meet these challenges.
According to the Business Times (2019), over 90 percent of Singapore’s food supply is imported from over 170 countries. This leaves the city-state incredibly vulnerable to interruptions to food supply, export bans, market volatility and climate change. The Singapore Food Agency (SFA) hopes to ensure that Singapore produces 30 percent of its own food by 2030. In the past two decades, Singapore has invested in numerous high-tech urban farming technologies including hydroponics, aeroponics and indoor vertical farming. In 2019, the government also announced plans to develop an 18 hectares Agri-Food Innovation Park at Sungei Kadut. It also mentioned that Republic Polytechnic will also offer a new Diploma program in Urban Agriculture Technologies (Straits Times, 2019). Numerous local farms have also made new breakthroughs in container farming. For instance, Sustenir Agriculture has recently found a way to grow strawberries commercially indoors, by using LED lights with various wavelengths as well as tailored nutrient solutions. Its strawberries are now sold to local supermarkets in Singapore.
In addition to geo-political pressures, Israel also faces challenges when it comes to agriculture. Fertile land only accounts for 20 percent of Israel's land area; over half of the country is desert, and much of the population - including Israel's economic powerhouse and largest metropolitan area Tel Aviv - is squeezed into a narrow coastal strip. This geography forces Israeli agriculturalists to be innovative, and the sector includes a myriad of enterprises and services. Israel is currently the global leader in food technology, with over 500 agriculture and food innovation companies in Israel. Israel not only produces most of its own food, but also exports $1.3 billion worth of agricultural produce and technology every year (France 24, 2019).
Every week thousands of pounds of food worldwide go to waste due to spoilage before they even make it onto people’s dining tables. Fruits, vegetables, and other produce have a limited shelf-life and if they cannot be distributed in a timely manner, they will go to waste. Israeli company Pimi Agro is working to stop world hunger by developing ways to make their perishable foods last longer. Through an all-natural, zero chemical process using hydrogen peroxide and a ‘few key additions’, Pimi Agro has been able to develop fruits and vegetables that stay ripe for over 10 weeks. Similarly, about one-third of the food produced for human consumption is often lost or wasted each year. Another Israeli company GrainPro Cocoons has also developed a bag that keeps water and air out. It provides a simple and cheap way for poor farmers in developing countries to keep their produce fresh and away from pests and mould.
- According to the World Bank (2014), up to 78 percent of the world’s poor live in rural areas and rely on farming to put food on their tables and make a living. Improving the efficiency of agricultural practices is one of the most effective ways to raise incomes of the impoverished. Innovative, new IoT technologies and the data they generate can help rural farmers optimize their operations, from increasing crop yields to reducing the use of fertilizer and water.
Zenvus, a Nigerian start-up, is equipping farmers across sub-Saharan Africa with smart soil sensors that collect data such as humidity, temperature, pH, moisture, and nutrient levels, and automatically upload it to the cloud for analysis. A mobile app provides tailored advice to the farmers on what, when and how to plant, and connects them to electronic marketplaces to sell their crops. By providing real-time data and analysis that helps improve farmers’ decision making, IoT technologies reduce the risk of crop failure, decrease production costs, increase yields, and provide market access – all of which lead to higher profits and more secure livelihoods.
- In Paraguay, Fundacion Paraguaya serves as the country’s first microfinance organisation. One of its key programmes is Poverty Stoplight, which is currently being used in 18 countries in Latin America, Africa and Asia. Poverty Spotlight is a self-assessment survey and intervention model to help poor people assess their level of poverty on 50 indicators across six dimensions, such as whether they have proper sanitation, whether their children have been vaccinated, etc. This has allowed each family to take ownership of their situation and enables people to develop practical solutions to overcome their specific needs. (World Economic Forum, 2015).
1.5 Security threats:
- To limit the potential fatalities in counterinsurgency asymmetrical warfare against terrorists and rebel groups, many countries including the United States and the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation (NATO) have employed military technologies such as Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), electronic surveillance and laser guided missiles meant to minimise collateral damage and increase lethality against intended targets. Such technologies were first employed during the Gulf War in 1991, and later in counter-insurgency efforts against ISIS and Al-Qaeda (The Guardian 2016). According to CNBC (2013), the National Security Agency (NSA) electronic surveillance programs has helped foil more than 50 terrorist plots (including on the New York Stock Exchange) after 9/11.
- Modern technology greatly enhances the process of surveillance as tools such as AI, surveillance cameras, and facial recognition systems help law enforcement agencies detect and locate instances of misdemeanours, and by extension keep the communities safer. Furthermore, the very effectiveness of such technology in apprehending wrongdoers may act as a further deterrent to disincentivise individuals with malicious intent from committing acts that may endanger the safety of others [More on this in National Security Lecture].
Known more prominently as the StanChart robber, David Roach was quickly identified and apprehended thanks to close-circuit television (CCTV) footage after his bank heist in 2016.
As of 2017, the Singapore Police Force relied on police cameras (PolCams) installed nationwide to solve more than 2,300 cases, including theft and molestation.
CCTV had the largest effect on drug crime in countries like the UK and the US, with a reduction of approximately 20%.
- Modern technology also plays a vital role in predicting crime patterns and analysing trends that flag out potential threats. Big data analytics and machine learning have been especially useful in pre-empting crime, especially since such tools are highly efficient in sieving through vast amounts of data and criminal records to identify specific lawbreakers, allowing law enforcers to be one step ahead of potential felons.
Groups like Moonshot CVE and IBM have utilised big data techniques to analyse sentiment and help to forestall criminal activity.
Computer simulations and text analysis software are also used to detect patterns in language used by extremist groups.
1.6 Economic Development:
- It can be argued that economic growth created by the technological and industrial developments during the Industrial Revolution gave Europe and North America a necessary foundation for the great strides in medicine, healthcare and science that occurred during that era.
- A more recent example would be the recent development in electronics and smartphone technology, which has led to an increase in demand for rare earth metals that are needed in the manufacturing of these electronic devices, such as cobalt and lanthanum. The mining and extraction of these metals now provides a vital source of income for many countries in Central Africa, which historically has suffered from a lack of arable land for agriculture. This extra source of income can go a long way in improving the living conditions and healthcare facilities in these impoverished countries.
- China, which has historically relied on its strong manufacturing sector, is increasingly trying to develop in areas such as artificial intelligence, smart technology, life sciences and chemical engineering, industries that will provide greater value and income to the country. Through reducing the costs of production, encouraging the growth of new business, and advancing communication, technology can spur economic growth and help the central government to achieve its goal of lifting millions of citizens out of poverty.
- Big data technologies are fundamentally changing how companies in all industries operate due to their ability to provide actionable business insights and better understand customer behaviour. This has helped to accelerate global development. Digital footprints from social media can also fill gaps in data for policymakers and development practitioners. For example, Google Trends (GT) reports, which provide real-time information on search queries at state and metro levels for several countries, have informed private consumption predictions. Google analytics could also have broad-reaching utilities.
- There is an increase in the number of “zero-labour” factories, where only a few high-skilled engineers are needed to maintain the factories. Toyota cars are now made in fully automated factories where it only takes 7 hours to make a car, and human employees are there only in case of automation error and quality checks. According to a report by Oxford Economics (2019), 20 million manufacturing jobs worldwide will be displaced by machines across the next decade. Beijing-based Geek+ for example, deployed more than 7,000 logistics robots for a new generation of almost zero-labour, automated warehouses (SCMP, 2019). This allows for an increase in productivity (greater output for the same level of input), which is especially important in today’s age where there are supply chain crunches present in many sectors all over the world.
- The advances in technology have also aided in globalisation, and its ensuing effects on the development of the world economy [see Globalisation Notes].
1.7 Human Rights:
- Technological advances have made the spread of information far easier than ever before, but they have also enabled child sexual abuse material to be widely shared online. The US-based National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has seen a major increase how many child sexual abuse files they review, with the number reaching 25 million in 2015, compared with 450,000 in 2004.
Founded by actors Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher in 2009, Thorn: Digital Defenders of Children is a non-governmental organisation committed to ending child sex exploitation and trafficking through innovative technological tools. By creating solutions based on deep-learning and artificial intelligence that can identify the most vulnerable victims of child abuse, law enforcement can focus on the most urgent cases. Thorn’s efforts to speed up victim identification, unsettle the platforms spreading illegal content, and hamper child abusers is making a significant impact. In 2017, the organisation was instrumental in helping police identify 5,791 sex trafficking victims, with their web-based tool, Spotlight.
- Due to poor procurement practices and unaccountable supply partners, some companies have unknowingly participated in unethical supply chains and, in the process, are exacerbating issues surrounding modern slavery. Smart procurement technology greatly improves the ability of major companies to achieve a comprehensive view of often complex supply chains and root out irresponsible suppliers. Moving away from simplistic supply chain checks will damage the widespread modern slavery industry, which generates $150 billion each year, according to the International Labour Organization (World Economic Forum, 2018).
The use of Blockchain has also been tested to eliminate abuses in certain supply chains, since there is an authentication mechanism which enables transparency in supply chains from sourcing through to the customer purchase. Everledger uses blockchain to determine the origin of diamonds to prevent blood diamonds from circulating, while Provenance has tracked the origins of fish to see if it is linked to areas where modern slavery is rife.
- Technology can also aid and address cases of online harassment or physical violence against women and minority groups through intervention measures, such as better encryption of personal data and information (preventing public knowledge of private data), or even with various applications.
According to Cybersafe’s 2020 report, which was funded by the European Union, there are multiple games or applications which can be used in both educational and non-educational contexts, such as Conectado (a video game to raise awareness about bullying and cyberbullying), Friendly ATTAC (Adaptative Technological Tools Against Cyberbullying, an interdisciplinary project with programmes designed to increase positive bystander behaviour), FearNot (an interactive drama/video game to teach strategies to prevent bullying and social exclusion using innovative psychology inspired AI) and Online Peskoppenstoppen (Stop Bullies Online, a programme to teach victims how to cope with symptoms of depression and anxiety).
- With the advent of online learning, technology has become a major asset in the pathway of ensuring quality education for all, particularly since more than 120 million children and adolescents around the world are out of school. With platforms like Khan Academy, and India’s BYJU, the young with little or no access to schools can learn vital skills and acquire quality education.
- Cloud Computing and big data analysis allows analysis of key trends and early warnings for critical issues before they occur, which has aided prevention and rapid response to humanitarian disasters.
Microsoft is working with the UN to create Rights View, a ‘dashboard’ of sorts which enables UN human rights staff to analyse large amounts of data on specific countries and the types of rights violations in real time.
2.0 Science and Technology, with its developments cannot solve longstanding global problems
At a glance:
|2.1 Science and Technology cannot always alleviate Global Hunger|
|2.2 In terms of addressing global terrorism and security threats, scientific and technological developments may help to identify and nullify some security threats, especially direct attacks from belligerent forces, but it often does not eradicate all of these threats complex|
|2.3 Driven by desire for profit, scientific and technological developments may help some but not others (humanity as a whole). They may specifically target only certain consumers or groups of people rather than solving global issues for humanity:|
2.1 Science and Technology cannot always alleviate Global Hunger:
- Though there has been numerous scientific and technological developments in terms of genetic engineering of food crops that hold the best panacea to solving global hunger by promising bountiful harvest and low crop failure, there has been little implementation of genetic engineering, with much of the world banning, restricting and otherwise shunning GM food, due to fears of potential health risks, fears that GM crops could pollute the environment or cross-contaminate other plants (Reuters 2016).
Although many of these fears are not scientifically proven, such fears prevent technological developments in genetic engineering from solving hunger or food security issues in most countries. This is especially the case in Africa where there are high birth rates and overpopulation on the African continent and African farmers are struggling with low yields and susceptibility to crop diseases, insects, pests and drought. Though there are genetically modified crops out there that are available to help them, it's not legal in most African countries to plant these crops, or even to do research on these crops (World Politics Review, 2019).
- World hunger is not caused by a lack of food but instead by poor food distribution. In fact, as multiple studies have shown, we have enough food to feed ten billion people, 1.5 times more than the current population. However, world hunger exists because of the unequal distribution of food all around the world.
Citizens in developing countries have a smaller purchasing power to obtain food compared to those in developed countries so a large percentage of global food supply then goes to the developed countries, where food wastage becomes a problem. In other words, those who need food the most do not receive it due to socio-economic constraints, which arises from political capability. Therefore, these crises, which arise from the nature of mankind, cannot be solved by technology.
2.2 In terms of addressing global terrorism and security threats, scientific and technological developments may help to identify and nullify some security threats, especially direct attacks from belligerent forces, but it often does not eradicate all of these threats because they are complex:
This is because many of these threats originate from competing interests and ideological differences, which is often difficult to address, especially terrorism that arises from religious or ethnic cleavages which are more deep-rooted in nature, and science and technology may only target the symptoms of the problem rather than truly addressing it.
- This is evident in numerous case studies such as the ongoing war against global Jihadism by warfare, in which attacks on Al Qaeda in Afghanistan did not result in the complete elimination of Al Qaeda, but only caused it to atomise and disperse, morphing into several different organisations around the Middle East, Africa and Asia, with large numbers of jihadist sympathisers in Europe (BBC 2014). The US invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 may have removed the Taliban regime from power, but it has not eliminated the Taliban. Airstrikes and ground operations targeted at the Taliban went on for nearly 20years, with the United States having used 6208 missiles and bombs in the first ten months of 2019.
In 2021, the Taliban gradually took over Afghanistan again, torturing and killing ethnic and religious minorities, former ANDSF soldiers, and those perceived as government sympathizers in reprisal attacks. Not long after, the US decided to pull out of the 20-year long battle, leaving Afghanistan to the Taliban. Hence, despite the military technology that has been used in combat in Afghanistan, the war never ended, and many civilians were harmed in the process. Advanced military technology was also insufficient to fully eliminate terrorist groups like the Taliban.
- One of the more recent variants of terrorists is ISIS, which at one point held large swathes of Syria and Iraq in 2014. The Islamic State desires to create a Islamic State based on a fundamentalist, Salafi jihadist doctrine of Sunni Islam. While military technology may serve to blunt their capability to launch attacks, it does not eliminate the threat in its entirety. Despite the demise of its physical caliphate in 2019, the US government believes that ISIS remains a battle-hardened and well-disciplined force whose ‘enduring defeat’ is not assured. The US maintained that it is necessary to maintain a ‘vigilant offensive against the now largely dispersed and disaggregated (IS) that retains leaders, fighters, facilitators, resources and the profane ideology that fuels their efforts’ (BBC, 2019).
- Lone-wolf terrorism and lone-wolf attacks are also very difficult to prevent, especially given the increasing divergent profiles of these disgruntled terrorists. Conventional theories and evidence on the profiles of terrorists often posits that terrorists are often poorly-educated, heavily-marginalised minorities that have little stake in the establishment of the current political and economic order. However, increasingly, many of the lone-wolf terror attacks are conducted by terrorists whose profile are deeply divergent from such conventional profiles. Many of these terrorists are highly educated, and well employed and often affluent, and it would be difficult to detect and pre-empt such attacks (The Guardian 2015).
These include the two of the suicide bombers responsible for the Sri Lanka Easter bombings in 2019, as well as Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, the so-called ‘underwear bomber’ who tried to blow up an American passenger jet over Detroit, USA on Christmas Day 2009. He is the son of a wealthy Nigerian banker and he attended University College London, which is regarded as one of the top universities in the world (CNN, 2019). [More on this in our National Security/Terrorism notes]
2.3 Driven by desire for profit, scientific and technological developments may help some but not others (humanity as a whole). They may specifically target only certain consumers or groups of people rather than solving global issues for humanity:
- Although scientific or technological developments hold much potential in solving numerous pressing global issues, they are ultimately unable to realise this potential due to the financial limitations of research and development, as well as the profit-driven nature of research.
With technology such as genetically modified crops out of reach for these less-developed countries, particularly individual farmers, problems cannot be solved on a global scale, and are limited to wealthier countries that have the financial muscle to support and fund this research. In this way, technology only serves to further entrench the inequality that is responsible for many global problems today. Evidently, the benefits of scientific or technological developments can be skewed in favour of wealthier countries.
- The lack of access less-developed countries has to these advances is a problem. Research and development is a costly process, with Singapore investing $16 billion into this area alone. To many less developed countries across the world, these astronomical sums are all but out of reach. This problem is exacerbated by the profit-driven nature of science and technology today, with companies raising prices and squeezing consumers to the very last cent, to justify the costs and motivations for research and development.
- Large pharmaceutical firms such as GlaxoSmithKline emphasise progress and discovery to find new drugs that can make money. This view was also shared by John McKeen, the late former chairman of Pfizer, who once argued that ‘it was not worth investing in drugs that would not generate substantial revenue.’ (New York Times, 2020). Some diseases and illnesses often get more research attention than the others, due to perceived profitability. There has been rigorous research and development for drugs combating HIV/AIDs as well as cancer as these treatments remain highly profitable, while research for tuberculosis is seriously underfunded, with only two new antibiotics for treatment of drug-resistant tuberculosis having reached the market in over 70 years (World Health Organisation, 2017). The lucrative nature of some of the HIV/AIDs and cancer treatment drugs is clear. For instance, HIV antiretroviral sales across the seven major markets of the US, Japan, France, Germany, Spain, Italy and the UK totalled $11.8bn (£7.6bn) in 2009, according to figures from the research firm Datamonitor (Independent 2010). Advanced breast cancer drugs such as Kadcyla by Swiss pharmaceutical giants Roche, can cost up to 90000 pounds per patient per year (The Guardian 2016).
- Forcing GM crops on African farmers is detrimental as it decreases crop diversity. Traditional African farming systems have developed an incredible diversity of seed varieties, which are able to deal with the multiple challenges of farming. Having many different types of seed – bred for their flavours and better nutrition, and which have evolved with local pests and diseases and are adapted to different soils and weather patterns – is a far better strategy of resilience than developing a single crop that would fail in the face of climate change. By pushing just a few varieties of seed that need fertilisers and pesticides, agribusiness has eroded indigenous crop diversity. It is not a solution to hunger and malnutrition, but a cause. Hence, African governments pushing for the use of GM food is not as useful in solving global hunger as it is perceived to be.
- The inequality of the COVID19 vaccines also provides a good case study regarding these targeted benefits of Science and Technology. Well-developed and wealthier countries have extensive access and coverage with the vaccines, while less developed nations must wait for months and years to receive their vaccines. Similarly, while there is a COVAX scheme to help these less developed nations, majority of the developed nations such as France, Israel, Singapore and others, have chosen instead to use their stockpiles for booster shots instead of helping countries where majority of their population are not even vaccinated yet.
3.0 Science and Technology can add new conundrums by either worsening present issues or adding new problems to our world.
At a glance:
|3.1 Loss of Privacy|
|3.2 National Security issues|
|3.3 Increase in Cyberterrorism|
|3.4 Food Security and Poverty|
3.1 Loss of Individual Privacy:
- Facial recognition technology in China has been applied in stations, schools, and shopping centres across the country. While that has added convenience, many are worried about biometric data being hacked or leaked, with 74% of respondents in a survey by a Beijing research institute saying that they wanted a method which could use traditional ID over tech (BBC, 2019). There has also been growing concerns and debate regarding how China and its surveillance companies were ‘exporting authoritarianism’, and hence eroding global democratic norms by distributing surveillance technologies to 52 other governments such as Uganda, Zimbabwe and Mongolia, the same technologies which have been used in the Chinese security crackdown that has led to the detention of more than 1.8 million people, predominantly Uighur Muslims from Xinjiang (Financial Times, 2019).
There are also increasing worries within Singapore with increased surveillances, especially surveillance and facial recognition surveillance technology on lamp posts and HDB lifts (Reuters, 2018).
Similarly, the Moscow police have detained several peaceful protestors and journalists using facial recognition technology, as the Kremlin clamped down on the massive rally that supported its biggest critic, Alexei Navalny.
- In China, technology facilitates their social credit system, which aims to standardise the assessment of citizens and businesses' economic and social reputation. The social credit system works on rewarding or punishing people according to their behaviour — socially positive behaviours like adhering to the law will lead to rewards such as boosts on dating websites, discounts on daily expenses and better interest rates at banks; negative behaviours such as refusing military service or walking your dog without a leash could lead to restrictions of travel, throttled internet speeds, bans on enrolment to top schools and unsuccessful job applications. (Business Insider, 2018).
3.2 National Security Issues:
- The US government is worried that Huawei device and networking equipment may be used by China to spy on Americans, but also that Huawei’s 5G advancements might overshadow the US. Hopping on the bandwagon, various western countries have started to ban Huawei for security reasons. The Australian government said companies "who are likely to be subject to extrajudicial directions from a foreign government" would no longer be allowed to provide 5G technology, which was clearly directed at the Chinese telecom company (Al-Jazeera, 2018). This race for 5G has in turn sparked a greater trade dispute between China and the US, with US accusing China of unfair trading practices and intellectual property theft, while China alleging that USA was trying to curb its growth as a global economic power (BBC, 2020).
- New developments in military technology especially in unmanned underwater vehicles and artificial intelligence have sparked a new global race. The United States was the first to buy an unmanned submarine (Boeing orca drone submarine) that can be used as a moored mine or a slow smart torpedo. Many countries such as Britain, Japan, China, Russia and South Korea are also rushing to develop their own unmanned underwater vehicles (Forbes, 2019)
- As Russian president Vladimir Putin observes, ‘artificial intelligence is the future, not only for Russia, but for all humankind. It comes with colossal opportunities, but also threats that are difficult to predict. Whoever becomes the leader in this sphere will become the ruler of the world” (The Verge, 2017). Putin envisioned a future for war where drones, ostensibly controlled by artificial intelligence, would fight proxy wars between countries. “When one party’s drones are destroyed by drones of another, it will have no other choice but to surrender,” he said. Russian companies have been actively researching autonomous weapons, such as drones, robots and missiles, which would be able to pick targets and fire on their own. Documents from the US military show similar strategies, where swarms of drones would assist troops with real-time intelligence gathering and air support. Outside of future war games, a $100 million private Russian venture fund was recently formed to invest in AI start-ups worldwide. The fund’s first two investments were companies focusing on analysing satellite imagery and creating mobile augmented reality (Quartz, 2017)
- Modern technology acts as an additional avenue for crime to occur, which is sometimes worsened by its accessibility and the ability for individuals to be anonymous and undetected.
In South Korea, digital sex crimes are on the rise as the country is experiencing a disturbing trend, where sexual images of women and girls are posted on the internet without their consent.
The Dark Web, which is a collection of heavily encrypted websites that escape easy surveillance, is also notorious for such illegal activities. Child sexual offenders are able to meet on such platforms with near-complete anonymity to exchange indecent images and advice on abuse techniques.
- While experiments on modern technology are necessary to reap potentially immense benefits to humanity, it can be immensely threatening at the same time. Nuclear technology is one such example. If correctly harnessed, the energy derived from nuclear emits low carbon and is cheap to run. However, in the event of a nuclear meltdown, devastation occurs. In the 2011 Fukushima incident, while there were no immediate deaths due to the disaster, more than two thousand people died due to radiation related diseases from the event.
3.3 Increase in Cyberterrorism:
- With the rise of tech, terror attacks have increasingly targeted cyber system. The FBI in the United States defines cyberterrorism as a "premeditated, politically motivated attack against information, computer systems, computer programs and data which results in violence against non-combatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents". The constant and rapid development of technology implies that the nature of crime is ever evolving, making it extremely challenging for law enforcement agencies to keep up with such advancements, much less mitigate them.
- Attacks could come from terror groups, organisations or individuals. Rogue states like North Korea have engaged in destructive cyber-attacks, like the one on Sony in 2014, over Sony’s planned release of ‘The Interview’, a mad cap satire about a fictional CIA plot to kill North Korean Leader, Kim Jong-Un (New York Times, 2014).
- In 2011 to 2012, as part of the Occupy Wall Street movement, and Arab Spring movements, the hacker group, Anonymous, emerged with various online attacks on corporations and establishments, in support of the various ground protests (Huffpost, 2011).
- In 2013, Singapore was also on the receiving end of Anonymous as well, with attacks by a member known as ‘The Messiah’ who hacked the People’s Action Party’s Community Foundation Page, the Prime Minister’s Office website, the website of Seletar Airport, the website of the Istana, and the Straits Times (SCMP, BBC, 2013).
- In 2017, the WannaCry ransomware attacks targeted computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system by encrypting data and demanding ransom payments in the Bitcoin cryptocurrency. It resulted in the disruption of essential services such as England’s National Health Service (NHS) system and FedEx.
- In 2018, 1.5 million SingHealth patients were stolen in a cyber-attack in July. The attack also “specifically and repeatedly” targeted Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong’s personal particulars and outpatient medication data (Straits Times, 2018).
3.4 Food Security and Poverty:
- Genetically modified crops were once hailed as the panacea to world hunger, but the profit-driven nature of the industry ultimately led to disaster. Monsanto, one of the biggest players in the GM crop market, is notorious for raising their seed prices and genetically modifying them to be infertile. As such, farmers are forced to purchase a new batch of seeds every season, leading to lower profits. Often, farmers must take loans that they are incapable of repaying due to the low profits of the GM food; in India, the problem has escalated to the point where farmers are committing suicide due to the heavy losses incurred.
- Vandana Shiva, biodiversity campaigner, believes that corporate giants are trying to take over the world’s seed supply through genetic engineering. Furthermore, she believes that it has led to the emergence of super weeds and super pests (The Guardian, 2013)
4.0 Evaluation: Science and Technology, being a tool or avenue for us to utilise, has its impact and effectiveness is heavily dependent on other factors which can hinder its effectiveness in dealing with longstanding global problems.
At a glance:
|4.1 Government’s Agenda or inaction|
|4.2 Corporate Agendas to make profit|
|4.3 Limitations of Human Intellect and Ethical Considerations|
|4.4 Users with negative intent|
While some of earlier segments argue in favour of technological determinism (the theory that social progress follows an inevitable course driven by technological innovation, thus technology is believed to be the key mover in history and society, and therefore humanity by determining our cultural values, social structure and history), the inherent nature of technological determinism is that it is a reductionist theory, which therefore it has underlying assumptions – the key being that it is not affected by other factors, which is definitely untrue. Instead of assuming a simplistic cause-and-effect relationship, it is generally accepted that technology does not determine but operates and is operated upon a complex social field (Murphie and Potts, 2003).
While some may feel that it is more apt to argue that technology does present more advantages than disadvantages, there does exist several disadvantages and limitations of science and technology that limit its effectiveness in solving global issues.
Technological determinism is in contradiction with the theory of social construction of technology, which espouses that society itself shapes the consequences of technology. Also known as technological constructivism, this standpoint is what we can use to evaluate the impact of Science and Technology – that human action determines and shapes Science and Technology. Indeed, there are inherent motivations for utilisation of Science and Technology, and the effect of Science and Technology to resolve global problems, human factors such as economics, governance, and politics (which often influences the effectiveness of technological developments in addressing global problems), need to first be addressed.
4.1 Government’s Agendas or inaction:
The UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, Liu Zhenmin points out that to truly leverage on science and technology, there is a need to intertwine it with policy (UN, 2018).
He believes that because we are building complex socio-technical systems at all levels of our society, it's all changing so fast that policymakers can’t keep up and getting it wrong has become increasingly catastrophic.
This therefore means that policymakers need to better understand technology. What policymakers decide has a major effect on the success or failure of science and technology in relation to the problems of the world.
- For instance, sources of renewable energy have shown the promise of entirely replacing our current sources of petroleum oil, natural gas and coal. Yet, bureaucracies and power struggles have impeded the implementation of such solutions: oil remains a valuable trade commodity and the OPEC participant countries continue to ensure that it is so. Furthermore, the US has also recently discovered new shale oil fields that sent oil prices further tumbling down. With oil prices remaining low, it is hard for the relevant industries to turn to greener renewable energy as they may lose their competitiveness by incurring higher cost. If we remain blind to other such limiting factors and do not target them, we will only end up developing more solutions, that sometimes lead to more problems, without ever solving the issue in question
- Thus, it appears that while scientific and technological developments are crucial in solving the world’s problems, the global community has to take a stand in resolving the issues that the world faces.
- Agricultural subsidies provided by the European Union have led to unnecessary surpluses leading to the dumping of food on global markets. [Refer to the Poverty notes]
- Under the leadership of Robert Mugabe in Zimbabwe, farms were confiscated from their white owners and given to black farmers who were poorly trained and inexperienced, turning the “Breadbasket of Africa” into a country dependent on food aid.
- In the Democratic Republic of Congo, while mining for rare earth metals has expanded due to the development in smartphone technology, the protracted civil war has meant that standards of living have remained dismal. These examples show that despite the importance of science and technology, a lot still hinges upon the economic policies of a country, and the political stability of a nation.
- In addition to rising prices, advances in science have yielded a greater understanding of the complexity of diseases—which, according to Andrew Lo, an economist at the MIT Sloan School of Management, has led to a trend in recent years of investors shying away from drug development in general, particularly in the early stages. “The irony is that as we’ve gotten smarter about the nature of these diseases, that’s actually caused the risk for investing in these therapies to increase,” Lo says. Despite higher costs and less-certain returns, investments in drug development on the rare disease side appear to be bucking the trend affecting the greater biomedical industry, Lo says. “Rare diseases have actually done well, thanks to the incentives that the Orphan Drug Act provides.” Orphan Drugs are pharmaceutical agents developed to treat medical conditions that are so rare that it would not be profitable to produce without government assistance.
The US Orphan Drug Act (ODA), enacted in 1983, was a game changer for rare diseases. Before the law passed, only 10 orphan drugs had entered the market. By the end of 2017, more than 450 products for 668 orphan indications were FDA-approved.
4.2 Corporate Agendas to maintain profit :
Companies may seek to utilise every opportunity to cut costs and exploit the poor. This is certainly a prevalent issue, with firms seeking to maximise its commercial benefits, conducting research resulting in the exploitation and even suppression of the lower-income groups. Commercial interests, some argue, give firms and organisations increased incentive to cut costs and corners, and find new ways to exploit the vulnerable. When Nike developed new machinery that required almost no skill to operate, its factories in Pakistan started using child labour to cut production costs and wages. In our increasingly competitive markets, commercial interests have indeed spurred firms and organisations on to research and develop new ways to maximise profit, resulting in the unjust treatment of the poor.
- Monsanto, a multinational giant in the agriculture industry, is guilty of such crimes. Monsanto discovered a genetic modification for crops which made it impossible to plant a second generation of the same crop by using the seeds of the first generation. By selling such genetically modified seeds to farmers in rural areas, Monsanto created a complete dependency of farmers on the giant firm. Farmers had to consistently purchase seeds from Monsanto at ridiculous prices to ensure the continuity of their harvest.
- Martin Shkreli, the smirking "pharma bro" who gained worldwide infamy by raising the price of a lifesaving drug 5,000 percent, is awaiting sentencing next month on three counts of securities fraud. But as told on the season premiere of CNBC's "American Greed," Shkreli's crimes have nothing to do with the price hike. In fact, outrageous as the increase may seem, raising the price of a drug that benefits babies, pregnant women and AIDS patients from $13.50 per pill to $750 overnight was by all accounts perfectly legal.
- Another drug Truvada was very recently touted as the drug that would most likely turn the tide on the epidemic caused by the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). In the US, this drug costs a whopping USD900 a month.
4.3 Limitations of Human Intellect and Ethical Considerations:
Scientists are human too, which means they are not omniscient enough to understand long term effects or implications of their research, nor will they always understand the deeper moral considerations against scientific research which may come at a huge ethical cost to society.
- These limitations of human intellect are especially poignant with regards to weapons, which may have started with good intent, but ended with disastrous consequences. For instance, the atomic bombs (Little Boy and Fat Man) that were invented during WWll led to loss of many lives and infrastructure in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. According to statistics recorded, 80,000 - 140,000 people died instantly in Hiroshima from the shearing heat hot enough to boil tiles and vaporise people in the immediate vicinity. Over two-thirds of Hiroshima’s buildings were demolished in a matter of seconds and more than 40% of Nagasaki was destroyed immediately after Fat Man was dropped.
- There have been numerous advanced weapons designed and created in the last few decades. The Hydrogen Bomb for example, builds on nuclear weapons, and in 1961, the Tsar Bomba was exploded by the Soviet Union. It had 3,800 the explosive force of the bomb dropped on Hiroshima. There are also numerous biological weapons like Anthrax, and chemical weapons like Novichok. Novichok was used by Russian agents in 2018, to assassinate former GRU officer Sergie Skripal and his daughter Yulia.
- With regards to ethics, for instance, recent developments in genetic cloning have outraged many as it appears to violate the sanctity and value of life. To see human and animal embryos treated as lab experiments and to later make proposals to harvest them for medical use makes us question our morality and our views on life. Similarly, scientific advancement has facilitated the development of nuclear weapons and has arguably opened new avenues for more bloodshed. In hindsight, perhaps such developments should have been stopped in its infancy.
- Euthanasia: The ‘Sarco’ (short for sarcophagus) suicide machine. This machine was created and displayed this year by Australian euthanasia activist Philip Nitschke, who plans to revolutionize the way we die by selling the 3-D printing schematics to a suicide machine in 2019. While you can download and print it yourself, you'll have to take an online test to make sure you're fit to make the decision, following which Nitschke will send you a passcode good to activate the machine for 24 hours. Upon activation, nitrogen will spill into the pod and knock you out before you die of asphyxiation. It's apparently painless and on offer to anyone over the age of 50, regardless of whether or not they're sick. Nitschke insists that anyone who has lived that long and wants to bow out of going on any longer deserves to make that decision for themselves (Straits Times, 2018). [See Euthanasia in ethics notes]
4.4 Users with negative intent:
- With the advancement of technology, the internet is easily accessible by many. This makes the spreading of extremist ideas much easier as extremist content posted on websites and blogs can easily be accessed by people, increasing the chance of recruitment into such agendas. These terrorist groups can be extremely destructive, carrying out terrorist attacks that result in loss of lives and injuries. With technology, it is more difficult to cut off the support for these terrorist groups because finding recruitment pages on the Internet’s vast terrain is highly challenging. For example, Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) was an Islamic terrorist group that had a strong social media presence, and it recruited many while carrying out many acts of terror in many countries, claiming innocent lives and leaving many others injured.
- The scientists themselves are not infallible and are subject to the same moral ills that can plague all of us. In a bid for fame, personal glory, achievement of research grants, scientists can be tempted to falsify results. In fact, a survey by the Public Library of Science revealed that 2% of scientists have intentionally manipulated experimental results before. The high-profile case of Korean scientist Hwang Woo Suk comes to mind in his attempts to cheat the world by claiming he has cloned human embryos. The lie he fabricated was subsequently unwoven by scientific progress after it was revealed that he falsified results.
- In 2018, confidential information of 14,200 people with HIV, including their names, contact details and medical information were stolen and leaked online by an American fraudster. The records that have been leaked include those of 5,400 Singaporeans diagnosed with HIV up to January 2013, and 8,800 foreigners diagnosed up to December 2011 (Straits Times, 2019).
Science and Technology alone cannot be the silver bullet quick fix to all the world’s problems, which are a result of various issues with different causes and complexities.
Despite the power of science and technology, for real strides to be taken to solve global problems, other factors such as economics, governance and politics will have to be addressed. Thus, it appears that while scientific and technological developments are crucial in solving the world’s problems, the global community must take a stand in resolving the issues that the world faces. What has always drawn us to the field of science and technology is the great potential that it must bring about revolutionary changes in the world, and the great power that it gives to individuals, communities, countries, and the world, to make the world a better place.
Science is a great liberator, liberating the world from plagues and disease, liberating the world from poverty and inequity, and releasing us from the bondage of technological constraints. Ultimately, science is fair, and blind to the social and geographical divisions in the world; science has the power to benefit every nation equally.
Science and Technology is perhaps the first step we can take to put an end to poverty, famine, disease, and climate disasters, but it has to go hand in hand, as espoused by the theory of social construction of technology with human actions such as good governance, political will, correct agendas and our determination to succeed for the greater good of humanity.
China’s social credit system (article + video): https://www.scmp.com/economy/china-economy/article/3096090/what-chinas-social-credit-system-and-why-it-controversial
Singapore an advanced surveillance state but citizens don’t mind: https://www.techinasia.com/singapore-advanced-surveillance-state-citizens-mind
Most Confusing Questions Congress asked Zuckerberg: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stXgn2iZAAY