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A decade of debate?

Is The Economist right to be optimistic about technology?

Every so often, The Economist publishes one of its weighty editorials, designed for maximum influence, and chose the imminent start of the ‘Twenties’ decade to discuss Pessimism v progress. Summarising crudely, its argument goes as follows:-

  • There’s a lot of techno-pessimism. “The new technologies that dominated the last decade seem to be making things worse.” This is not new. Back in the 1970s, everyone was gloomy about over-population, environmental damage and nuclear immolation! Even earlier, there had been a backlash against the industrial revolution and all that followed.
  • “ …Unrealised hopes and unforeseen consequences!”
  • The pessimism is over-done. The solution to technology is often more technology. Re climate change, “…It is hard to imagine any solution that does not depend in part on innovations in clean energy, carbon capture and energy storage…”
  • What’s key is how technology is used – the rules/policies that affect it, the required trade-offs and the ways to accommodate behaviour change.
  • “Healthy scepticism means that those questions are settled by a broad debate, not by a coterie of technologies.”

And the punchline:

“…the real source of anxiety is not technology itself, but growing doubts about the ability of societies to hold this debate and come up with good answers.”


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About the Author

Rhion Jones is considered a leading authority on Public Engagement and Consultation. A founding Director of the Consultation Institute, he is co-author of “The Art of Consultation” (2009) and “The Politics of Consultation” (2018). He has delivered over 500 training courses and Masterclasses and is a prolific writer on the subject, having written over 350 different Topic papers and over 50 full Briefing Papers for the Institute. Since 2003 over 15,000 person-days of training based on courses he invented have been delivered. Rhion is in demand as an entertaining Keynote Speaker and Special Adviser, particularly on the Law of Consultation, and its implications for Government and other Public Bodies. In 2017, he was awarded the ‘Lifetime Achievement Award’.

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