New technology needs more assessment

Mićo Tatalović

Mićo Tatalović
Deputy news editor, SciDev.Net


There is a need for more assessment of socioeconomic impacts of new and emerging technologies, and for novel, more participatory ways of doing this, Planet Under Pressure Conference heard this week (26-29 March).

While the zero draft of the outcome document for the upcoming UN Conference for Sustainable Development (Rio+20) talks about the need for technology transfer and capacity building — it fails to mention the equally valuable need for impact assessment of those technologies before they are released, said Kathy Jo Wetter, a researcher at the Action Group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration (ETC), a nongovernmental organisation based in Canada.

She presented ETC’s proposal for a new UN convention on evaluation of new technologies.

But while the participants supported the need for more technology assessment and community involvement in this process, the general mood was that this may not be best done through another UN treaty.

Adrian Ely, researcher at the STEPS centre at the University of Sussex, in the United Kingdom, said there was a need to draw more on the knowledge of technology users around the world, not just the scientific community.

Current technology assessments fail to examine long-term impact of technology policies and investments, especially in the developing world, but there are new ways of assessing technologies that are emerging, he added.

Paul Oldham, a researcher at Lancaster University, United Kingdom, presented findings from his group’s upcoming paper in PLoS One, which used visual tools to map synthetic biology research. He suggested that this emerging field may be best governed by working specifically with the key research groups and funders identified in his paper.

Interestingly, his paper shows there is some synthetic biology research and patenting in developing countries, such as Brazil, China, Chile, India and South Africa. But when he analysed who uses this research — which is still predominantly done by a small number of groups in developed countries — China and Africa became much more prominent. Chinese researchers are using synthetic biology findings in health research, whereas, in Nigeria, for example they used them to study biopiracy.

This blog post is part of our Planet Under Pressure 2012 coverage — which takes place 26–29 March 2012. To read news and analysis from the conference please visit our website.

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