Three rules ‘must’ for optimising technology use for progress


Washington : Use of technology can be optimised for ensuring social progress if policy makers are clear about how to apply it and know what to expect from their efforts.

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Daniel Sarewitz of Arizona State University (ASU) and Richard Nelson of Columbia University described three rules that can help technology and science policy makers become smarter about where to apply technological fixes and what to expect as a result.

In “Three Rules for Technological Fixes”, Sarewitz and Nelson use literacy, education and disease prevention as contrasting examples of the complexity of applying technology in today’s society.

Their first rule is that technology must largely embody the cause-effect relationship connecting problem to solution. For example, vaccines work with great reliability because they address almost all of the important variables necessary for preventing the disease.

So, the application of vaccines is routinely done with great success despite “a notoriously dysfunctional health care system in the US.”

Rule number two is that the effects of the technological fix must be assessable using relatively unambiguous or uncontroversial criteria. The benefits of the fix, that is, must be obvious to all.

“Such clarity (in benefit) allows policy and operational coordination to emerge among diverse actors and institutions, ranging from doctors and parents to school districts, insurance companies, vaccine manufacturers and regulatory bodies,” Sarewitz and Nelson stated.

Rule number three is that research and development is most likely to contribute decisively to solving a social problem when it focuses on improving a standardised technical core that already exists, said an ASU release. These conclusions appeared in Nature magazine.

Sarewitz concluded that “when technologies meet our three rules, they are particularly powerful because they are better able to overcome the political and organisational obstacles that often make social progress so frustratingly slow”.