Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

The Impact of Technology

By Ian Lowe

The government has abdicated its responsibility to assess the broad economic effects of new technologies.

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Do we need a formal process to assess the likely future impacts of new technologies? A recent Melbourne workshop reviewed a framework that could be used for a comprehensive review. I was involved in developing the framework with Prof Alan Petersen of Monash University and Prof Susan Dodds of University of Tasmania.

The project, funded by the previous government’s National Enabling Technologies program, recognised that we usually do serious financial assessments of new technology but rarely consider the broader economic impacts, which can be considerable. The internet has seriously affected newspapers and retail trade, video streaming has almost destroyed video libraries, junk food chains have wiped out suburban milk bars, solar panels and wind turbines are closing down coal-fired power stations.

New technology can also have huge social impacts. Think of how the contraceptive pill dramatically expanded opportunities for women, or the wide-ranging positive and negative impacts of mobile phones on how we work and interact with other people.

Proponents of new technology have often overstated its benefits. Computers were going to give us the paperless office, television was going to be a powerful educational tool, and nuclear power was going to be cheap, clean and safe. Canadian expert Prof Tim Caulfield reminded the workshop that genetic advances have...

The full text of this article can be purchased from Informit.