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New and emerging technologies

As science expands our understanding of the world it can lead to the emergence of new technologies. These can bring huge benefits, but also challenges, as they change society’s relationship with the world. Scientists, developers and wider society must ensure that we maximise the benefits from new technologies whilst minimising these challenges.

Regulation is important here, but the research and development process is also key. Which technologies are explored, and how they develop, are decisions that shape and direct society. Therefore wider society must be involved in deciding how technologies develop and where research and development effort is focussed.

New technologies have always had the potential to redefine how societies behave and how they interact with the world. These changes can bring huge benefits, but also challenges and risks.

Scientists and innovators must engage with policy makers, civil society and the wider public to ensure that the technologies that society wants and needs are developed to maximise the benefits, whilst ensuring that the risks are understood by all the stakeholders, and reduced as far as is possible.

Risks and rewards of new technologies

The 21st century has already seen the emergence of technologies that are changing how we live. Information technologies are connecting people in ways that were unthinkable just a few decades ago and redefining how business and wider society operate. At the same time, the vast and rapid flow of data brings new challenges, addressed by our report into cybersecurity.

These benefits and challenges cannot always be foreseen, but are underpinned by the science and engineering of new technologies. An understanding of this basis is therefore vital for anyone interacting with them, something highlighted by our Brain Waves project on the impacts of neuroscience and that will be explored in our Machine Learning project.

Responsible Research and Innovation

The challenges of foreseeing how and where emerging technologies will affect society has led to the development of Responsible Research and Innovation. This approach acknowledges the linkages between research and society, and takes into account potential impacts, both positive and negative, on society and the environment.

Two areas of research where there is a particular need to maintain a clear and open dialogue across society are cutting edge biology and geoengineering.

Synthetic biology, genetic modification and human enhancement have the potential to alter how we live and work, and so it is vital that everyone who could be affected is aware of the challenges and possibilities, and is able to contribute to a discussion on their use.

Geoengineering technologies are now emerging that will allow societies to deliberately alter the climate. Managing this ability is a major challenge for scientists and policy makers for the coming century.