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HUMANITIES SCIENCE POLITICS

Science, People & Politics ISSN 1751-598X ISSUE THREE (July - Sept) 2017 PAGE 13

BOOKS

At the margins of the future

By Helen Gavaghan

Mega Tech: Technology in 2050
Editor: Daniel Franklin
£15.00 Paperback: 242 pages
Published under exclusive license from The Economist by Profile Books Ltd
Copyright 2017
ISBN 978 1 78125 462 2 eISBN 978 1 78283 166 2

As I was leaving King Cross station in London earlier this year, the enterprising marketing people from The Economist stopped me, sold me a trial subscription, and this book.

Megatech is worth its £15.00. If you want an overview of what the current technology literature and news says might be the case in 2050, this book will inform and annoy you.

Take the chapter on biotechnology written by Robert Carlson. He tells us that the US Advanced Research Project Agency (DARPA) wants to create a neural interface enabling digital input and output from the human brain. That sounds fraught with potential ethical dilemmas.

Tissue engineering and positioning cells on organ shaped scaffolding attract Carlson's attention also, as does genome editing. In this the author might be missing a trick, as well as be misjudging the stage to which science has advanced.

For example, the author make no mention of induced plutipotent stem cells (iPSC), which is an area so riven with ethical dilemmas that part of me thinks it should have its own equivalent of the Human Fertilization and Embryology Authority, and be X-rated. It is, after all, only 17 years since the first very crude human genome was published (I interviewed many of the researchers from the Sanger Institute for Nature magazine). Since then what we have learned is how little we know.

Big data - another topic covered in MegaTech - is also slightly off key for me. The easy assumption that big data will shift medicine such that doctors turn to the computer for corroboration, and so that they avoid malpractice suits is, I think, wholly wrong. No matter how sophisticated we become with personalised medicine I would argue this chapter is back to front, and the doctor in danger of a malpractice suit is the one who feeds in data to the computer for corroboration. The principle, "Garbage in, garbage out," is not, I think, going to change any time soon.

There is more than enough in this book for both politicians and scientists to critique, with the intention of turning to their ethics advisors, and beginning conversations with one another. Nor am I convinced that the book gives enough insight into what reports emerging from the current science literature say about where technology might be in 2050.

Among other chapter headlines are: Farming tomorrow; The ethics of artificial intelligence; The data-driven world; Work and the rise of the machine.

Finally, I liked the reference to historian of technology, David Edgerton, made by Oliver Morton in his contribution to this book. Any book Edgerton writes about the history of technology "as used", rather than a history of technology "as innovation" is one I would like to read. I became a fan of David Edgerton's work when I was a post grad researcher at the University of Manchester.

13 SCIENCE, PEOPLE & POLITICS [ISSN 1751-598X]


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CONTENTS

PAGE 3
LIGO

PAGE 4
LIGO

PAGE 5
LIGO

PAGE 6
LIGO

PAGE 7
BOOK REVIEWS:Ethics, Pythagoras, Megatech

PAGE 9
BOOK REVIEWS:Ethics, Pythagoras, Megatech



PAGE 13
BOOK REVIEWS:Ethics, Pythagoras, Megatech

PAGE 14
From British Courts

PAGE 15
From British Courts

PAGE 16
From British Courts

PAGE 17
Poems of Science

PAGE 18
Poems of Science

PAGE 19
Quiz

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