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‘Technological Advances’ with Valeska Ting

In this video, Valeska Ting talks about information sharing and technological advancement in relation to global citizenship.
The combination of technology and human ingenuity have resulted in some of the greatest accomplishments in history, allowing humans to travel rapidly and conveniently throughout the globe, to communicate and convey information over vast distances, to live longer and healthier lives, and to even travel to outer space. While the benefits of these technologies are undeniable there are still many parts of the world where even the most basic technologies are sadly lacking. There are myriad reasons why people may not wish such helpful technologies to be shared. For example, in industry companies use patents and intellectual property law to protect commercial secrets to give them a competitive advantage. This cuts down on competition and allows them to safeguard their profits.
Countries may also protect their technologies to avoid their misuse. During the Second World War the tide of victory was determined by who had the superior technology, giving them an edge over the opposing side. For example, the decryption of the messages sent using the Enigma machines was developed in secret, here in Bletchley Park. But, while there was secrecy surrounding some of these technologies, the benefits of sharing technologies and ideas was also recognised. Looking more closely at the development of the atomic bomb, which ended the Second World War, this was through the result of collaborations between different scientists and engineers with different fields of expertise who came together under the auspices of the Manhattan Project.
Their collaboration made the rapid development possible, which resulted in the end of the war. However, sharing of technologies with the potential for harm relies on trusting that whoever you give this technology to will use it wisely and for the greater good. In the context of health there are obvious benefits to the sharing of knowledge. Widespread vaccinations can completely eradicate dangerous infectious diseases, with some diseases such as polio being almost completely wiped out by blanket vaccinations at childhood. Limiting the availability of preventative vaccinations and modern medical practices exposes all of us to the potential for epidemic outbreaks.
Pharmaceutical companies argue that to develop a new drug or vaccine takes billions of pounds of investment and could take decades of in-depth testing before it’s ready to be released onto the market. Now, if the resulting drug or vaccine was not protected by a patent there’d be no financial incentives for the company to make such a huge investment of time and resources. So, there’d be much less research and development going towards solving these globally important issues. One of the most urgent drivers for technology in this modern age is to develop new sources of sustainable energy to power our economies and global development. The Industrial Revolution was built on fossil fuels.
With an abundance of energy to fuel industry, the Industrial Revolution resulted in extraordinary technological development and economic growth. However, with growing global populations our continued reliance on fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas and oil have led to a number of negative environmental outcomes including diminished air quality and anthropogenic climate change. There are also a number of negative societal impacts caused by the fact that fossil fuels are a natural resource and are not equally distributed throughout the globe. Some countries have plentiful resources, while others rely on trading and importing energy. Historically, this has led to a number of international conflicts over these scarce natural resources, and essentially new sources of energy have to be developed.
In the context of sustainable technologies such as wind, solar and wave power, these are technologies which will allow communities to generate their own energy, and this will enable decentralisation of energy production and will also reduce our reliance on fossil fuel resources. In addition, if we can share these technologies with developing countries this will give them access to more efficient and cleaner sources of energy, therefore reducing the burden on developed countries to reduce the global carbon emissions. So one way of looking at it is that the sharing of technology and technological advances may be a way for us to tackle global issues that affect each and every one of us.
Scientific development is typically collaborative, and it’s becoming increasingly common that scientists, as well as publishing their work in respected peer-reviewed journals, will make this information openly available to anyone who seeks to understand it. This collaborative way of sharing knowledge reduces repetition of work and ultimately accelerates the development of new technologies.

In the final section of this week, Dr Valeska Ting discusses some of the ideas around the sharing of technology in a global society.

It may seem that solutions to the issues we have discussed so far this week are quite easy: give everyone access to the technology and advancements (medical or otherwise) that they need. However, this isn’t always as straightforward as you might think.

To explore this further, here Valeska discusses three main ideas: sharing technology in relation to medical advancement, open access research, and technological sharing to combat global issues such as climate change, which you explored in more detail in the previous section.

As you watch this video, consider your responses to the questions below, and then share your thoughts in the comments. You will have more time to develop your ideas during this section, so at this stage it’s best to just note down your first thoughts and reactions.

  • If a new technology is developed which is beneficial for everyone, should it be made available to everyone?

  • Are there some technologies that should not be widely shared?

  • Why do you think so?

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