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Science, Technology and Social Progress Published: Sunday, April 18, 2004 By: Dr. Manuel Ángel Morales

The sustainability of any society depends on the healthy interaction between economic activity and the natural environment. Economic activity is organized by government and business to provide people income, food, housing, health, education, security and mobility. The purpose of a sustainable society should be coupled with a framework for economic vitality, environmental quality and social justice. From a social system or macro management perspective this means designing, structuring and operating sound decisions, responsible action, appropriate technologies, and thoughtful local and central governments.

The history of technology is increasingly linked to the history of science. Science is a more systematic attempt to understand and interpret the physical and biological world. Technology is concerned with the manufacturing and use of devices and systems. Again, science is devoted to the conceptual enterprise of understanding and describing the physical and biological world. By the 15th century the emergence of the commercial structure caused some merger of purpose of science and technology. Later on the great philosopher Francis Bacon, in the 17th century, (knowledge is power), recognized three great technological innovations: magnetic compass, printing press, and gunpowder. Bacon strongly advocated for experimental science as a means of enlarging humankind dominion over nature. The core argument was that enlarging the role of science equals the harmonization of science and technology.

As historical research shows, the more recent role of Thomas Edison was key to the growing relationship between science and technology, because the trial-and-error process by which he selected the carbon filament for his electric light bulb in 1879 resulted in the creation at Menlo Park, New Jersey of the world’s first industrial research laboratory. It led easily to the management engineering rationalism applied by Frederick W. Taylor to the organization of workers in mass production. This venture created an interested dynamic because manufacturing technologies created new tools and machines with which scientists were able to achieve more profound insight into the natural world.

Technology then began to be understood as science plus purpose. While science is the study of the laws of nature, technology is the practical application of those laws toward the achievement of purposes. A more simple and clear definition is the organization of knowledge for the achievement of practical purpose. This predicament generates a formidable design, structuring and management challenge: how to use devices and systematic patterns of thought and creativity to control physical and biological phenomena in order to serve people’s social desires with a minimum of resources and maximum efficiency. From a society, sectorial or cluster perspective, it emerges another core warning: the scale and speed of the technological growth and change can overpass the capacity of our conventional institutional system to manage and shape social environments.

There is now a solid agreement that economic growth (EG), environmental preservation (EP), and social equity (SE) can be mutually reinforcing goals, and policies to achieve these goals should be integrated. It emerges then the following quality of life formula: QoL = EG + EP + SE.

Interestingly enough, we are referring to a kind of three factor balanced scorecard for measuring societal, sectorial, cluster or company performance: (1) Increase economic activity and the return on capital. (2) Prevent and measure waste and pollution. (3) Increase the openness and transparency toward the community.

 


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