Human beings and technology are interdependent, without technology, people will not be able to survive independently. In today's new technological revolution and industrial transformation, It’s crucially adjective to let people lead the development of science and technology, rather than let science and technology lead the evolution of people.
Scientific and technological progress is not only benefiting human society, but also shaping mankind. Since the scientific revolution in the 16th century, the influence of science and technology on human society has been increasingly extensive and profound. However, science and technology is a "double-edged sword", which has many negative effects on human beings and human society. In the context of the new scientific and technological revolution and industrial transformation, both effects of science and technology seem to be strengthening in the wide impact of today's science and technology, and in the great tension tear, bring many challenges to human society.
Scientific and technological progress is driving the world into the "Age of Innovation"
From synthetic fiber clothing, to food industry, from reinforced glass building, to the aircraft high-speed rail travel, there is no doubt that today's human beings are living in an age of technology. Scientific and technological progress has brought great convenience to people's production and life.
The promotion of science and technology to production is mainly reflected in the following aspects: first, it provides more powerful production tools. People get great energy from such natural minerals as coal and oil, and invent steam engine, internal combustion engine and gas turbine, etc., which greatly extend human physical strength, improve the supply level in a profound way and make it possible to enrich material wealth. The second is to create a richer object of labor. From plants to natural minerals, from intermediate products to virtual goods, almost all natural items become human labor object through science and technology development, and a new object of labor was created, endless human material needs were excavated through deepening division of labor and production, lay a foundation for the sustainable development of human beings. Third, to promote a more efficient organizational model. Scientific and technological progress has promoted the development of organizational management. From "scientific management" to knowledge management, from multinational companies to contingency organizations, from bureaucracy to network, science and technology has promoted the continuous improvement of people's collaboration efficiency. Fourth, construct more organic social governance. Scientific and technological innovation also brings new governance technologies. The development of newspapers, magazines, radio, television, Internet, especially we media, micro media and intelligent media promotes social progress and governance improvement.
The improvement of life quality by science and technology is mainly reflected in the following aspects: firstly, more convenient way of communication. From telegraph and telephone to the Internet, especially various instant communication tools, such as WeChat, people have gained a real, convenient, private and intimate interactive experience. Second, the more abundant entertainment style. Photography technology creates photography art, film art, television technology creates television art, radio technology creates radio art, Internet technology creates online games, online drama, etc. VR/AR/ER/MR and other technologies are creating new artistic styles, so that people can feel the same, immersive. Third, a more comfortable domestic life. The popularization and application of all kinds of household appliances greatly reduce the housework, people can be gradually liberated from the heavy housework. Electrification and intellectualization have provided rich material and technical basis for people to enjoy family life more easily and comfortably. Fourth, healthier life processes. One of the important effects of scientific and technological progress on human beings is the increasing average life expectancy. Safer working conditions, more comfortable family life and more advanced medical conditions have all contributed to more and more people's access to healthier life processes.
Given the irreversible changes brought about by human activities, some people believe that the geological era should enter the anthropocene from now on.
Technological innovation may also be creating a bigger crisis
However, the negative impact of scientific and technological innovation on economic society and human beings has been lingering. These adverse effects are mainly manifested as: one is the unexpected resource ecological problems. Starting from the ecological disaster brought by DDT application revealed in silent spring, such phenomenon appears more and more often. It’s irony that that DDT once even won the Nobel Prize. Recent cases, such as bicycle "cemeteries" in various places after the rapid development of shared bicycles, are concrete manifestations of the lagged effect of the negative effects of technological innovation. Second, social frictions such as unemployment and incapacitation. Many of the social applications of disruptive technologies lead to temporary or even permanent unemployment, and the "luddites" who hate machines have been around since the industrial revolution. The emergence of ride-hailing, online payments, digital delivery, and so on, has excluded those who do not have network application skills, resulting in a sense of incapacitated deprivation. Third, the polarization of wealth distribution. Scientific and technological innovation brings about the situation of "winner-takes-all", which makes the distribution of wealth present a strong "Matthew effect". Since the 1980s, the trend of wealth concentration to technology giants has been increasingly strengthened. In the United States, for example, the wealth of the richest 1 in 1,000 people has increased fourfold in the last 40 years, to an average of $21.9 million per person. By comparison, the wealth of the middle class and below 90 percent has increased by only 1 percent, to $303 per person. Technology giants such as Google and amazon have used intelligent information technology to capture more profits while employing fewer employees. Fourth, the fast pace forces physical and mental exhaustion and anxiety. Science and technology make the rhythm of production and life quicken day by day, people have to seek to adapt constantly in the fast-changing environment, and then make the body and mind bear too much pressure. In order to pursue success, people are excessively eager for information and expect immediate feedback. They are constantly nervous, anxious and emotional. More and more modern people are exposed to the risks of mental and spiritual disorders. Fifth, it induces the unfairness of life itself. Advances in life sciences and intelligent technologies are creating new and greater inequities. When times come that genes can be edited, heredity can be selected, IQ can be set and life can be endless, the struggle for the fairness of life ontology may lead to the complete disintegration of the community of mankind. Sixth, the risk of knowledge explosion is high. In the past, people used to think that the misuse of technology would bring negative effects. However, some recent studies have pointed out that it is the "destructive knowledge" (knowledge that can lead to human destruction) contained in human knowledge system that is the source of the "double-edged sword" of science and technology. Typical case is like nuclear weapon, biochemistry technology, network security domain "blackmail virus" wait. If such "bad knowledge" is misused, it may endanger the whole human race.
Get prepared for the impact of technological innovation
Contemporary science and technology wanton development seems to be reaching a new peak, towards the realm of omnipotence. Dark matter, dark energy, gravitational waves and microscopic particles have made people's understanding of the material world increasingly profound. Genome, phenotype group, cell map, brain map and so on, so that people's understanding of the nature of life is getting better and better. It seems that science and technology can explain the whole world without relying on philosophy. It seems that science and technology can enrich the spiritual world without relying on culture. Scientific and technological innovation brings the biggest impact, which is actually the comprehensive impact on humanism.
In fact, we can find clues from the five times of technological and economic changes brought about by technological innovation since the industrial revolution. The first was the textile revolution, which solved the problem of wearing. The second was the steam revolution, which solved the problem of energy and power. The third was the electric revolution, which produced a universal energy (electricity). The fourth was the petrochemical and synthetic materials revolution, which solved the material problem and brought about mass production. The fifth is the information revolution, the establishment of a network of information systems, the realization of large quantities of economic activities on the production of effective management.
It can be seen above that the five-phase evolution of technology and economy has gradually solved the problem of development and application of the three major resources of material, energy and information required by human survival. It is foreseeable that the sixth revolution of technological economy will turn to people themselves, which can be called "cognitive revolution".
Therefore, it’s needed to response proactively in various aspects. First, we will vigorously develop the humanities and social sciences, promote the integration of natural sciences and social sciences, and promote innovative breakthroughs in the humanities and social sciences. Second, strengthen the self-discipline of the community of scientists, strengthen the humanistic education of science and engineering university students and scientific and technological workers, learn from the practice and experience of asilomar conference, encourage and support the scientific community to regularly hold scientific and technological social impact BBS, and form an ethical consensus on cutting-edge scientific and technological research and development. Third, establish and broadcast the concept of "responsible R&D and innovation (RRI)", and pay attention to the ethical issues in the process of scientific and technological innovation in the creative stage of scientific and technological research and development and the whole follow-up process, as well as the possible adverse social impact caused by scientific and technological innovation. Fourth, to promote the research and practice of social policies. For a long time, China's policy considerations on scientific and technological innovation are more in the field of economic policies, which need to strengthen the research on the social impact mechanism, laws and trends of scientific and technological innovation, and improve and strengthen the social policy system of scientific and technological innovation.
It needs to be pointed out that technology is of equal importance as human beings survival, is playing a "immortal engine" role in human society development. According to the dissipative structure theory. Human society is a stable structure with constant entropy increase but far away from equilibrium state. It is precisely by introducing "negative entropy flow" through technology that human beings get rid of the fate of "heat death". It can be said that mankind and technology are interdependent, without technology, mankind will not be able to survive independently. In today's new technological revolution and industrial transformation, what mankind need is to let people continue to lead the development of science and technology, rather than let science and technology lead the evolution of mankind.
This article was published in the Study Times on October 17, 2018. The author is Li Wan, deputy director and researcher of Shanghai Institute for Science of Science.