Monday, 8 June 2015

Science and Technology in the 21st Century will affect us profoundly - How to Manage? The blogger profile

After a lot of soul-searching, I decided to take a plunge and start a second blog.  My first and only blog has been active for the past nine years.  Emphasis has moved on or should I say widened since then.  The whole thing started with my retirement in 2006 after 36 years at Glasgow University teaching physics and researching first in nuclear then lasers and back to a kind of synthesis of laser induced nuclear.  Research was exciting but teaching environment was not.  Retirement option came as a breath of fresh air with all the free time to do whatever I wanted.  Academic research, by its very nature, must concentrate in a narrow specialization which is good in some ways as this brings research grants and ensures survival.  The downside is that with all your time taken up by work and family, there is nothing to spare to keep up with the excitement of new things that have been happening in biology, digital sciences and everything else.  For a few years I had felt that there must be a better option - 50 years of research and 200 odd papers behind me, I felt that it was time to move on and open my eyes to the wider world of science and technology and everything else.
Several decisions were made on retirement:

1. I will publish research papers no more (what for?)
2. I will not attend a meeting to ask for funding my activity (waste of time!)
3. I shall not seek remunerative employment (it shackles you!)
4. I shall not tolerate nonsense from anybody (I am not looking for employment or money)
5. I will do my best to educate the community (selfish act - read below)

I did stick to all the above decisions. This last point was really one of the most selfish decisions that I have made. Let me explain: It is difficult to learn and retain knowledge about things that you do not have a good background in - simply because after a short period, may be a couple of months, you forget most of what you read.  The only way that I know is to teach.  When you teach a subject, you have to understand it properly and then you keep it with you for a long time.  This is what I had to do.
But who do you teach to? I had felt for a long time that the rapid progress in science and technology was creating a two tier society.  People who understand science and those who do not and for that reason are unable to even start to catch up.  This situation had existed for ever so why worry about it now?  The reason is that Science and Technology (ST) rules our lives far more than it ever did before and things are going to get much much worse.  The new gadgets work like magic for most people and by and large they are happy to use and enjoy them. With little or no understanding of how things around them work, the vast majority of the population leave themselves open to exploitation  - by the few who control the technology.  I consider the new gadgets like drugs that intoxicate by their effect on you and leave you vulnerable to manipulation and control by others.  It is like we are sleepwalking into creating Huxley's Brave New World or worse.

Historically, ST progressed slowly and concentrated on alleviating the hardships of daily grind.  That stage passed more than half a century ago and what we have now is an ever-increasing rate of technological advancement.  The general population might see this as a good thing that makes life more comfortable and enjoyable but slowly and surely we are seeing a shift in power in the hands of fewer and fewer individuals.

Educating the communities about ST is not straightforward.  Old science was based on common sense - you throw a ball towards a high wall and it bounces back to you.  The new science traumatizes common sense - the ball sometimes leaks through the wall on to the other side!
Our education system has taken no heed to the new reality and at age sixteen, children have learnt hardly anything about the new sciences or in many cases any science at all.  This needs to change otherwise we shall be creating a large population of Huxley's deltas and epsilons. 

Apologies for digressing - I had thought that on retirement I would teach science to the communities and with some help from Glasgow University started my ScienceforAll programme of free community talks on all sorts of subjects.  It has been successful in teaching me new science but I have only been able to reach a very small audience and have to find a new way.  The first step is to publish the talks on my blog so that they are available to all.  This I am doing via my blog.  To keep track of ST in 21st Century, I am starting this new blog and new research in biological, nanotechnology, robotics and artificial intelligence will be published here - when time allows.

ST in 21st Century will affect life in many ways - our existing legal, social, cultural, religious and other structures will be totally inadequate to deal with consequences engendered by the new ST and the speed of change will be phenomenal.  How we can cope with this is not something I (or for that matter anybody else) has an answer for; but talking about it will be useful.

Watch this space.

No comments:

Post a Comment