Science and Technology, Part 3

Exploring the framework for a “Balanced Development” model

 

Ramses Rashidi

©2008 Center for Balanced Development (www.cbdus.org)

 

In the last two articles we talked about science and technology and its role in the development of civilizations and the evolution of society. Here, we’re going to explore some new and emerging fields in science and technology in relation to a balanced development model.

 

The Race for Technology and Global Disparity

With the current popular mindset, which has global appeal, inventors and entrepreneurs are constantly working on the latest, fastest, smallest, most efficient, and the best technology that is going to define the way we live. The race for advances in technology is constantly picking up momentum, and the number of inventions and improvements on existing technologies is hard to keep up with. Actually, for the majority of the inhabitants of our planet, it takes years, and even decades to catch up with the incredibly dramatic trends in scientific and technological advances that are being adopted in the “developed” countries. The disparity among the different regions of the world in terms of access to technology is rather huge. In fact, there are still large areas of the world that do not have access to simple technologies for clean water, energy sources, heating, proper shelter, or food production.

 

When it comes to poor regions of the globe, things such as the light bulb, the telephone, a television set or the computer and the internet are considered luxuries. For these folks, there are far greater and more pressing needs for food and medicine just to be able to survive. Basically, while the so called “developed” countries are constantly upgrading their technologies and adopting more sophisticated lifestyles, and incorporating more efficient information systems for managing resources, the rest of our planet struggles to deal with life in the hardship alley. This is where people don’t receive proper education. These are the areas that are the hotbed of exploitation and conflicts. There are about two billion people that must subsist on less than a dollar a day, and where dying of hunger is the harsh reality of everyday life. Imagine that a third of your body is afflicted with deadly disease. Yet, you’re oblivious as you indulge the rest of the body in luxury. It’s no wonder, that we are experiencing such unprecedented difficulties and conflicts at all levels.

 

It’s interesting to note that in the wake of the hustle and bustle of big business in capturing market share and billion-dollar transactions, the concept of “social business” or socially- conscious entrepreneurs are starting to pick up some support. The “One Laptop Per Child” or OLPC project, with its mission to empower the children in the “developing” countries to experience the wonders of the age of information, and tap into to the Internet, has been an excellent example of a “social business” using technology that is accessible to the less fortunate, and therefore creating more social balance in our global village. Funded by large multinational corporations, governments and humanitarian organizations, more than 700,000 of these “$100 Laptop” computers have been distributed to children in Africa, Asia and the Americas.

 

The Grameen Bank for the poor based in Bangladesh, which has had great success with its famous “Micro-Lending” strategy has created another “Social Business” application called the “Village Phone” program where women entrepreneurs provide wireless payphone services in the rural areas of Bangladesh. So far, 55,000 phones, covering 28,000 villages, and benefiting some 80 million people, can now have access to information, news from relatives and more, have been distributed throughout the region.

 

Nanotechnology and New Applications

One the most fascinating emerging technologies of our times is nanotechnology which refers to a field of applied science and technology dealing with the control of matter on the atomic and molecular scale. Nanotechnology is generally about fabrication of devices or material that is smaller than 100 nanometers. It addresses a variety of fields including applied physics, material science, chemistry, biological engineering, robotics and electrical engineering. There are thousands of new applications ranging from computer chips and semiconductors to pharmaceuticals and nanoparticles that are used in suntan lotion, cosmetics, protective coating and drug delivery.

 

The usage of nanotechnology in solar panels has created new possibilities in terms of simplicity of the process and the lower cost of production which make it more affordable to millions of households around the world. The making of small size fuel cells that are capable of producing tremendous amount of energy as alternative power sources in transportation, as well as other applications, together with the creation of highly condensed and efficient rechargeable batteries with long life cycles that respond to the concern for the disposal of traditional batteries, are among some of the other great advances that are being made in this field.

 

Nanotechnology in the medical field has opened up new frontiers in diagnostics, drug delivery, tissue engineering, imaging, surgical devices and the treatment of cancer. Some of these technologies are changing the way the medical establishment functions. Complicated operations can now be done in a fraction of the time that it used to take, with shorter recovery time and less pain involved. The use of these technologies in prosthetics is another area of great achievement.

 

Furthermore, the application of nanotechnology in lightweight materials that are used in spacecrafts, airplanes and cars create stronger and lighter vehicles that consume less energy to operate. Nanofibers are used in making water and stain-repellent clothes that are wrinkle-free and do not need to be washed or drycleaned as often. Nanofilters can replace traditional complex processes in filtering chemicals and purification of liquids.   

 

Nanotechnology and Big Concerns

Like any other field of human endeavor, we need to know about the side-effects of technology. Nanotechnology is not exempt from this rule. Actually the more complex is the technology, the more complicated is its impact. Nanoparticles that are already used in skin products could be a health hazard if they are used constantly and over a long periods of time, as they can go through the skin and damage the cells. Carbon nanotubes can have asbestos-like qualities which could prove to be a liability to our health.  At this point, it’s difficult to predict the ecological impact of the nanoproducts on the environment, especially on plants and micro-organisms. But the life cycle of nano-products have been studied and we need to be concerned the same way, if not more, that we are concerned with the plastic products’ life cycle. Creating bio-degradable nano-products might be a great business initiative with great rewards.

 

As always in our exploration of a balanced development model, we feel that moderation and good planning in the development of nanotechnology and its impact on human lives and the environment need to be properly studied. We need to be able to assess the real costs and consequences of the new products so that the future generations don’t end up with social, health, and environmental issues that would be difficult, if not impossible, to address.

 

In the next article we will continue our examination of science and technology. Specifically, we’ll focus on bio-technology and concerns over its development patterns and practices.

 

Ramses Rashidi (ramses@cbdus.org) is the founder and director of Center for Balanced Development.

The center is a non-profit organization dedicated to providing resources and services to foster global balance in social, personal, ecological and economic development.