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Industrial Revolution

New Technologies Require Honest Debate of Science and Ethics Issues

New technologies require distinct, not conflated, debates on science issues and ethics/value issues; The next Industrial Revolution will have profound effects on jobs, particularly professions and white-collar jobs; Reskilling and upskilling later in life will be necessary to remain productively employed.

Dalian, People’s Republic of China – The next Industrial Revolution – involving massive increases in data and computation power, and remarkable advances in biotechnologies, among others – is already here. It is having and will have profound effects on human life. Klaus Schwab, Founder and Executive Chairman, World Economic Forum, chaired a panel of experts at the Annual Meeting of the New Champions in a session on Navigating the Next Industrial Revolution, addressing what Schwab described as “the most important issue.”

Katrine Bosley, Chief Executive Officer, Editas Medicine, USA, described her company’s work using the CRISPR system for gene editing, which promises significant advances in the fight against genetic diseases, but also offers the potential to alter other genetically based characteristics. She noted that there now is something like “Moore’s Law” in gene sequencing, with accuracy and speed dramatically increasing while the costs are dropping.

Advances in computational power have made fast and cheap genetic sequencing possible. “Big data and artificial intelligence systems are making the world much more understandable,” noted Andrew Moore, Dean, School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, USA. A troublesome question, according to Moore: “The people who are running the AI systems have a lot of power. Who are they?”

Nina Tandon, President and Chief Executive Officer, EpiBone, USA, described her company’s work making bone transplants from human cells. “We should view the human body as an ecosystem rather than a collection of parts,” she urged.

“Science is moving us toward a bio-renewable world,” commented Feike Sijbesma, Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of the Managing Board, Royal DSM, Netherlands. “The question is: can we cope with the changes and opportunities?” he asked.

“The ethics issues raised by new technologies are for everybody,” argued Sir Mark Walport, Chief Scientific Adviser, Government Office for Science, United Kingdom. Whether the topic is fracking, genetic engineering or other technology based controversy, discussions of science issues and ethics/value issues should be kept distinct, not conflated, he observed. “Different people have different value systems. Whose values should trump whose?” Honest debate in political systems should resolve these disputes.

In response to a question for Schwab as to whether new technologies will make the world boringly predictable, Bosley responded: “Biology remains deeply mysterious. I can’t image a world where biology is predictable.”

The next Industrial Revolution will have profound effects on jobs. Technological advances have always impacted jobs. But this one will impact professions such as law and medicine, and white collar jobs. “It will be safer to be a plumber than a management consultant,” Walport quipped.

Education is critical to employment, but the concept of education should be combined with reskilling and upskilling. Sijbesma suggested: “Governments should consider a mandatory re-education requirement at age 50.”

The World Economic Forum’s Annual Meeting of the New Champions takes place in Dalian, People’s Republic of China, from 9 to 11 September. The meeting is a leading global gathering on innovation, entrepreneurship, science and technology. It is held in close collaboration with the Government of the People’s Republic of China, with the support of the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC). The meeting is convening more than 1,700 participants from 90 countries under the theme, Charting a New Course for Growth.

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