From Technocracy to Democracy

David H. Guston is the director for the Center for Nanotechnology in Society. His talk titled “From Technocracy to Democracy” tries to add some human purpose to the techno-scientific potential in the morning. How do you govern the stuff that hasn’t been made yet? Technology is always deeply social too: we call this socio-technical. He made a set of points about technology and society with relevant images (that I can’t reproduce)

  • People make technologies
  • People live in, with and through technologies
  • Technological change and social change are closely connected
  • There are multiple solutions to any given technological problem
  • Socio-technological systems are difficult or impossible to predict (and even if we get right, we often get it wrong)
  • Socio-technical change can be incremental or disruptive
  • New technologies are often controversial and risky
  • Our socio-technical imaginations shape our future (e.g. Frederick Soddy and H.G. Wells inspired each other)
  • People play an important role in governing technologies and this leads to many questions that we need to start answering. Can we be more reflexive about how we imagine, research, design, build, market, and assess new technologies by asking:
    • Who are the people who innovate?
    • Who are the people subject to innovation?
    • How do they participate in the governance of technology now?
    • How might that change in the future(Ss) we are imagining for them?
    • How can technology be democratically governed (we have to heed to Eisenhower’s warning: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its scientists, the hopes of its children. This is not a way of life at all in any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.”