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Lecturer Adresses Impact of Technology on Global Society

By Neena S. Kadaba
Staff Reporter

Dr. John H. Gibbons, former science advisor to President William J. Clinton, addressed the influence technology will have on society at a lecture entitled, "21st Century: Will Science and Technology Contribute to Society or Scuttle It?"

This was the first lecture in the 1998-1999 Karl Taylor Compton Lecture Series. Gibbons spoke Thursday in Wong Auditorium and will give two more Compton lectures in the coming year.

The lecture focused on the "goods and bads," as Gibbons called them, of the advent of technology on a large scale. Gibbons said that he believed technology is absolutely necessary for progress. In his speech, he addressed the problems the world faces and, more importantly, the possible solutions to global issues that technology provides.

Dr. Gibbons outlined the progress created by science and technology. He spoke of the power of the new options that science and technology creates. His ideas for the 21st century are largely based upon the concept that there is no end in sight for discovery.

Gibbons outlined his beliefs about the role technology should play in solving the world's problems. He proposed solving problems such as the population explosion and the decrease in security using technology.

Problems will get worse

Gibbons also enumerated the issues that threaten today's world, showing that these problems will only get worse in the next 50 to 100 years. While improvement in industrial manufacturing, transportation, biotechnology, information technology, and weapons through the use of new discovery is inevitable, an effort must be made to solve other important issues, Gibbons said. The down sides to the drastic change needed in the 21st century included the effects of proliferation, a further loss of privacy and intellectual property, population issues, and energy concerns, Gibbons said.

Gibbons outlined the environmental problems that the world, and specifically the United States, currently faces. Global climate change, high energy consumption, loss of biodiversity, scarce natural resources, little natural nitrogen fixation, and lack of disposal locations for radioactive materials are among the many problems facing the world in the 21st century, Gibbons said. Gibbons impressed upon the audience that there were no easy answers to these problems.

Developing nations should grow

Gibbons also said that an outreach to the developing world must be made, in order to create an understanding of alternative growth paths; he proposed that developing nations need not follow the same pattern as developed nations, but instead should jump to the technologically advanced stages immediately. His lecture about devising sustainable measures for growth and progress ended with a look to the future, and the image of how this generation is going to provide for the next.

The lecture was followed by a brief question and answer session, in which several members of the audience posed critical and varied questions on the issues presented. One person asked what role the US should place as its priority in facing the world problems. Gibbons answer was that we should help Russia and China "through their narrows."

Gibbons was science advisor to President Clinton from the beginning of his term until early 1998. He was the Director of the Office of Technology Assessment for 13 years, and worked at Duke University and Oak Ridge National Laboratories as a nuclear physicist on energy conservation research and development.

The annual lecture series honors the memory of the the Institute's ninth president, Karl T. Compton. Past lecturers include Nobel laureates Dr. Oscar Sanchez, Niels Bohr, Linus Pauling and Hubert Humphrey.

The next lecture will be held on Nov. 30, at 4:00 p.m. in the Wong Auditorium. The topic for that lecture will be "This Gifted Age: Science and Technology at the Millennium."

The Office of the Provost and the Department of Political Science sponsored Thursday's lecture.