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.