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Thursday, Dec. 27, 2001

How to harmonize science and technology with humanity


Special to The Japan Times

The 20th century was the greatest century in human history thanks to the tremendous progress made in science and technology. The advancement of science and technology has given us a higher living standard, and the information-technology revolution has dramatically expanded our intellectual playing field. Concerns are emerging, however, that science and technology are harming the Earth and could even threaten the very existence of mankind.

The Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon brought to light the existence of a new threat and raised the need for new security measures. We are surrounded by scientifically and technologically advanced facilities, and if they are misused, they can become terrible weapons in the hands of criminals.

The 20th century was one of growth and war. Two world wars were fought in the first half of the 20th century, and the Cold War dominated the second. Remarkable technological advancements took place, leading to the production of -- and, unfortunately, the use of -- nuclear, biological and chemical weapons capable of wiping out mankind.

The concept of "balance of power" has been considered to be an effective tool to prevent war. Now, however, arguments are growing that world peace can be better maintained through collective security and "soft power." We must examine whether human wisdom is capable of preventing the use of science and technology for destructive purposes. For example, cyber-terrorism could destroy whole societies, and information technology can be used to invade the privacy of citizens.

Life science is another area where we must question our ability to correctly use our wisdom. Progress in life-science technologies will invariably result in the creation of a variety of new medicines and lead to the frequent use of genetic engineering and transplants. Due to these advancements, the average human life span could reach 120 years, and the field of agriculture will be revolutionized.

Life science technology has now reached a stage where it will be possible to clone human beings. It may be said that the curiosity and the intellect of scientists have entered the "field of God."

Genetic engineering will no doubt continue to advance. But we must consider whether we should try to clone human beings and whether science and technology will lead to an actual increase in intellectual activity. We are now approaching a stage where we must address these serious issues.

The Earth was created 4.5 billion years ago, and humans first appeared about 4 to 5 million years ago. About 150 million species have existed on Earth, but two-thirds of these have already disappeared. We must realize that we possess tools and facilities that could endanger our very existence.

It is commonly observed that the market mechanism provides the most effective means to economic growth. In many countries, governments pursue the most efficient market framework and businesses seek greater profits by making the best possible use of the market function -- promoting economic growth by stimulating the desire of people to obtain greater wealth and a higher standard of living. The advancement of science and technology deepens and broadens the function of market forces.

Such theories depend on two preconditions: that natural resources are unlimited and that nature has an infinite ability to absorb what mankind produces. But this is simply not true. We should re-examine whether we can continue to sustain a market function that creates an insatiable desire to produce and consume.

The market mechanism may accelerate the trend of globalization, which is supported by advancements in information technology, but globalization cannot continue without a collective security mechanism to maintain peace and stability, a strong political will to preserve free trade, policy coordination on macroeconomic management among major countries and international cooperation to assist developing countries. For these purposes, discipline of policy management is needed.

Actually, many developing countries criticize the market mechanism and globalization, which can result in unfair conditions, while some nonprofit organizations may oppose policies of the International Monetary Fund and the World Trade Organization because they may worsen working conditions, harm the environment and accelerate poverty in certain segments of society.

When globalization advances by means of technological innovation, awareness of ethnic, cultural and religious identities can be heightened. Racial and regional conflicts have emerged since the end of the Cold War. We must develop an understanding of different cultures and values, and improve the abilities of cross-cultural management.

Through history, mankind has sought economic development aimed at obtaining material wealth and pursued intellectual progress through philosophy, religion and culture. But the 20th century was a period in which economic and material progress was emphasized. Now, however, people are starting to recognize the limit of the market function, and are beginning to work to preserve the environment and to seek an optimal balance between technological innovation and the needs of humanity. Some Japanese business executives have begun to increasingly discuss the sense of "being enough" ("taru wo shiru"), which is a key concept in Buddhism.

I have great confidence that the ultimate objective of business enterprises will be to create new values that include not only the pursuit of higher profits through cost reductions and increased productivity but also human values that nurture people's talent and sensitivity and social values that maintain social sustainability and discipline.

There should be two sides to technological innovation: We should accumulate the intellect and the ideas capable of advancing beneficial elements, but at the same time employ sound thinking and deliberation to control negative elements. The solution is to make technological innovations not reliant solely on technology itself but also on a sound value system.

Shinji Fukukawa is president and chief executive officer of the Dentsu Institute of Human Studies.


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