EU research has funded a comprehensive study on how to make sure that benefits of new technologies are distributed equally, despite social and economic differences.
Research into science and technology (S&T) has shown that social inequalities are not either alleviated or deepened by technological advances but are obstinately and extensively present in the very fabric of S&T systems. As such, the development of a global knowledge economy would seem likely to widen the gap between the privileged and the disadvantaged.
To help prevent this trend increasing any further, the 'Researching inequality through science and technology' (Resist) project focused on the three main forms of inequality in S&T – structural, representational and distributional differences. Project researchers approached the study from two angles, to understand the processes contributing to inequality and also the systems that would mitigate unfair distribution.
Resist looked into four specific areas through which inequality was going to be apparent – policy frameworks, international migration of the highly skilled, recent accountability mechanisms and the socioeconomic impacts of emerging technologies. The rationale was that remediation could be channelled through these lines to achieve the best results possible.
Project researchers suggest that a much broader set of indicators is needed to reflect the impact of inequality on such matters as health and happiness. As for accountability, researchers recommend that there is transparency of responsibility and, to achieve maximum effectiveness, a combination of direct public engagement with indicator-based forms of accountability.
Public interventions can incorporate two main concepts. First, a range of groups responsible for shaping technology to advise on the way S&T is used in their society, dependent on its characteristics. Another option is for countries to shape the scientific fabric of society and broaden the innovation itself to increase absorption of the technology. Versions of the new technology must be developed to work in a broader range of circumstances.
Regarding the economic aspects of innovations, it lies with policymakers and regulators to spread costs and prices fairly and to create conditions where the benefits will spread evenly. A relevant example of public ownership and increased availability involves recombinant insulin and provision to all through the public health service.
Resist acknowledges that emerging technologies will not have the same impact on all societies globally. However, the diversity of groups worldwide should not necessarily stand in the way of equal outcomes for all people.