Science Horizons

One of the problems of events which aim to gauge the views of the public about emerging issues like nanotechnology is that it isn’t always easy to provide information in the right format, or to account for the fact that lots of publicly available information may be contested and controversial in ways that are difficult to appreciate unless one is deeply immersed in the subject. It’s also very difficult for anybody – lay person or expert – to be able to judge what impact any particular development in science or technology might actually have on everyday life. Science Horizons is a public engagement project that’s trying to deal with this problem. The project is funded by the UK government; its aim is to start a public discussion about the possible impacts of future technological changes by providing a series of stories about possible futures which do focus on everyday dilemmas that people may face.

The stories, which are available in interactive form on the Science Horizons website, focus on issues like human enhancement, privacy in a world with universal surveillance, and problems of energy supply. These, of course, will be very familiar to most readers of this blog. The scenarios are very simple, but they draw on the large amount of work that’s been done for the UK government recently by its new Horizon Scanning Centre, which reports to the Government’s Chief Scientist, Sir David King. This centre published its first outputs earlier this year; the Sigma Scan concentrating on broader social, economic, environmental and political trends, and a Delta Scan concentrating on likely developments in science and technology.

The idea is that the results of the public engagement work based on the Science Horizons material will inform the work of the Horizon Scanning centre as it advises government about the policy implications of these developments.

6 thoughts on “Science Horizons”

  1. One idea which I really want to see slain, is the concept of a Participatory Panoptican. This is a concept that seems to have a great deal of support in some nanotech circles. But it is flawed in one of the same ways Soviet Communism was flawed: there are individuals who would almost certainly be exempt from the network (Communism’s other biggie flaw is the failure to appreciate price transmits info very efficiently).
    CCTV is not the Participatory Panoptican. The PP is every person knowing your every whereabouts and thus, your every outward behaviour.

    But essential administrative functions will be exempt. The NSA will not allow Osama to know their every action (and rightfully so). A tyrannical class of leaders, just as in the Soviet Union post-1917 and in North Korea today, would be enabled by the PP. I think PP proponents expect nanotech sensors to be magically powerful, so the PP is inevitable. In fact a cheap copper mesh should shield from most sensors and other countermeasures can shield from the rest.

    I don’t want the genocidal PNAC bible-thumpers who run the USA presently, to know when and where I’m sleeping, the toppings I like on my pizza, the air-circulation regime of my residence, etc. I don’t want the Oregon NARCs who boarded my bus on the way home from Vegas thinking my Portland internet cafe search was an attempt to score; I don’t want them to know when I’m consuming THC on my home soil, so they can have me extradited to a forced US prison labour camp like they are trying to do with Emery (or worse with Arar). I don’t want Columbian drug cartels to know when I’m vulnerable for kidnapping. I don’t want people I’ve pissed off at temp labour construction sites to know where I jaywalk.

    If I had a PP database and classified security clearance, I could murder anyone on the grid I want. If I have demonstrated a history of torturing, emprisoning or killing innocent disempowered civilians, I will likely do it en masse with PP. Do you really want the leader of your country vulnerable to their worst enemy? How about yourself? I don’t, and I won’t be thx to the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

  2. BTW I went to the site briefly to post this PP condemnation, but I couldn’t see any discussion links except a “start a forum” button. If there is an active discussion there I will contribute to it (if a link is posted to the specific page).
    Perhaps the problem with PP is that it is assumed if someone is assured to be caught, that they won’t say, assassinate me if I was grand Vizier of Phil-land. Modern criminology and human warfare history contradicts this…

  3. I had a look at their website. I am a bit confused about all this. It’s aim might be to start a public discussion but that needs a great deal more than a website with soem graphics and interactive guff.
    I didn’t know about this thing at all until I saw it on here, and even then, I don’t really have time set aside to organise anything, (Although I could take part in something if I saw something worth taking part in) and I have gigantic doubts about the level of communication.

    I have a vague impression that it expects a great deal of whomever takes part in it. I mean if you asked people about what they want the future to be like, I’m sure many would say robots doing our work for us, amazing medicine, jet backpacks etc. But getting people to really think about and respond to stuff like this in a constructive way takes some effort. I think you need a public more open to taking part in this sort of thing, who are generally more involved in civic business than they seem to me to be.

    Or you could help avoid this by partnering the initiative with local civic structures that already exist, from the Scouts to local councillors, or schools or whatever.

    Philip, I think you have to join to be able to do everything.
    Plus, whilst you make good points, I think your already starting from a position ahead of 99.99% of the population, who would go “participatory what?”
    I take it you would be against the UK gvts ideas of road tolling by satellite and transponder tracking of every car in the UK, which no doubt would b allied to the ID cards they will be introducing as soon as possible.

  4. Guthrie, I think the intention is to have public discussion events based on the materials, and I believe that these have already begun. However, the events listed on the calendar do seem fairly restricted in scope and location. I do very much take your point about expecting a lot of the people taking part – as you say, it is difficult to persuade people not as immersed in the arguments as Phillip that this is important or that they have anything to contribute.

    I pretty much agree with Phillip, by the way.

  5. Agree with him about the Participatory Panopticon?
    Because what I am concerned about is the UK Gvt’s slide towards a one sided the Gvt knows where you are kind of approach.

  6. Yes, I agree with him that a Participatory Panopticon is a truly bad idea. I don’t much like the idea of the government knowing where I am, either, but at least with our government’s record of IT procurement they’ll probably never get it to work. When I think about it I don’t particularly the current situation, in which a combination of Vodafone and Mastercard always know where I am, but I don’t, like most people, think about it that often.

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