“A Paradigm Shift for Science and Technology: Prospects for Administrative Regimes”
I delivered the keynote address at a seminar at the National Assembly of Korea entitled “A Paradigm Shift for Science and Technology: Prospects for Administrative Regimes” (과학기술패러다임의 변화와 행정 체제). The event was sponsored by
The event was sponsored by the Korean Congressional Research Service, the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations KFWSTA and Korea Advanced Institute of Women in Science, Engineering and Technology.
Among the Congressmen present were several figures from KFWSTA including Park In-Sook (who is also a member of our Global Convergence Forum).
(the Korean translation was not particularly accurate, so I have not included it here).
National Assembly of Korea
National Assembly Research Service
Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology Associations
June 28, 2012
“A Paradigm Shift for Science and Technology: Prospects for Administrative Regimes.”
Kyung Hee University
“The Increasing speed of technological change:
The Greatest challenge to governance of our time”
“Whether or not it draws on new scientific research, technology is a branch of moral philosophy, not of science”
(Paul Goodman, New Reformation)
Korea is a center for the development of technology and a great innovator in terms of e-governance, industrial design and rapid application of new technologies. As a result, Korea is playing increasingly a leadership role in technology on a global scale.
However, even as Korea makes remarkable advances in fields like biotechnology or supercomputing that promise to help Korea leapfrog ahead, there remains a significant blind spot in Korean policy that has limited Korea’s ability to take full advantage of the remarkable assets that it possesses. Korea has put far less emphasis in its policy and its strategy on the impact that technology, technological change, has on society, on culture and on international relations. That is to say, even as Korea has suddenly found itself to be a leader in technology, in manufacturing and in quality through its strategic investments and outstanding workforce, the question of how these new technologies will change the workplace, change the family and pose a challenge to our very definitions of the human and the nation have not been addressed directly in Korean policy and Korea has not attempted to carve a space for itself through its application of its resources to the question of technology and its impact on society.
But if Korea has not make the impact of technology in society a priority previously, we also know that Korea can make changes in policy and in direction with a speed and decisiveness that is the envy of the world. If Korea can start to focus its attention on the impact that technology has on society, Korea’s profile will be much enhanced. If Korea focuses its resources on the question of how technology will transform society, Korea has the real opportunity to be a leader in many fields because the rapid transformation wrought by technology has implications for every facet of human experience.
Let us step back and consider the remarkable, if somewhat difficult to perceive, crisis that we face today: rapid technological change. In the Stone Age, it took about five to eight thousand years to develop a new arrowhead or adze. Later on, it took only five hundred to eight hundred years to develop new technologies for pottery. But when we entered the industrial revolution in the nineteenth century, new technologies such as the railroad went from non-existence to domination as a means of transportation in just forty years. But that increase in the rate of technological transformation was slow compared to what would happen later with the internet, and later with Google and the smart phone. We can already see new models of smart phones being introduced at a rate of every six months, or less. If Google can reach this level of centrality in ten years, imagine how fast the next technology may come to dominate. We have no assurance of a limit to how quickly technology can evolve.
The basic source of pressure on our society is Moore’s law. Moore’s Law holds that the number of microprocessors that can be economically placed on a chip will double every eighteen months. As you know, this rate of progression is exponential, not linear, and therein lays the challenge. Our society, our habits, our culture and institutions (government and family) change slowly in a linear fashion. Therefore, the gap between what technology can do (and how it transforms our world) and what our institutions and thinking allow us do in response (or even our ability to conceive of change) is increasingly large, to a dangerous degree.
Above all, rapid technological change means that we may find ourselves in new situations that we had not anticipated very quickly, and that those situations, may change rapidly. Some of those situations maybe completely unprecedented in human history and we will be poorly equipped. What we can be certain of is that technology will affect all aspects of society and require radical changes in the ways in which we administer and conceive of government.
As the potential of technology explodes, we are running into profound biological and neurological limitations of humans. Humans are limited in our ability to process new information or deal with complex problems. So also, we are at risk of being addicted to computers, or having our reasoning processes undermined by overuse of technology. We face enormous challenges to our ability to self-regulate and even to maintain our own identities, in the face of new technologies.
In terms of governance, we also face equal challenges. What do we do in terms of regulating business when you can conduct 100,000 transactions a second? What do we do when the networks through which money, stocks and commodities are controlled become so complex and sophisticated that they are beyond the ability of humans to keep track of—or perhaps even to conceive of? This phenomenon is already true.
And as money becomes increasingly a matter of information rather than printed currency or bullion, how will it change in its nature, perhaps beyond the understanding of most people, as technology evolves? This is a major question of technology, but it is a question for finance and banking as well.
And there are more basic challenges, such as how we will be able to determine what is real in the future. As the technology for mechanical reproduction of images and sounds becomes increasingly sophisticated and inexpensive, it is becoming easier and easier to make up photographs, and even movies, of events that never happened that are convincing. We already see incredible divergence among different groups of people about politics and society based on diverging information and different photographs that each group assumes to be true. As technology improves, and as virtual reality looks increasingly real, we will have to create new institutions to assure we can determine what is true and real. We have no precedents for such governance problems and we will need to put our very best effort in because technologies are changing so rapidly that the standard for last year may no longer be the standard for next year.
Technology impacts welfare and medicine, offering to extend life, but also creating a potential crisis through an aging society and the incredible burdens it implies. As parts of the human body can be cultured, including the human brain itself, questions as to what is an individual and what makes up society may shake our institutions to their core. What does the constitution have to say about a computer that has large sections of brain cells as part of its system? Does it have the right to vote? How many votes?
Rapidly evolving technology will impact all aspects of society and human experience: the environment, business, education, jobs and education. International relations has been transformed completely by the networks linking supercomputers globally. Such linkage is transforming the meaning of trade, finance and communications.
Finally the entire field of defense and intelligence is being transformed in ways that we are having trouble anticipating even five years into the future. The distinctions between the local and international are increasingly blurred and the ability to protect, alter or manipulate information is becoming a global threat that goes beyond our previous experience. Some can speak with great confidence about the future of warfare, but honestly I think we do not know anything more than this: the next war will be unlike anything we have ever encountered.
So the challenges for governance and administration that face us today are immense and multidimensional. I would suggest that Korea, because it is the source of many of the transformative technologies that impact the world today, and because Korea is increasingly benchmarked by the developing world in fields like e-governance, IT and security, can play a central role as a trendsetter. Korea has demonstrated flexibility in governance which is unique. That is to say, that although there are many developing countries that have institutional flexibility, they lack maturity, expertise and ethical behavior. Korea has the flexibility of a developing country to make large institutional innovations, but it has the expertise and institutional maturity of a developing nation. This may well be Korea’s chance.
Korea created the Ministry of Knowledge Economy (지식경제부) out of parts from other ministries and give it a new vision. We cannot say definitively that all those decisions were the right ones, but the ability to change Korea displayed was striking. So also Korea created the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology. I know that there are some who are critical of this merger, and I do not pretend to fully understand the issues involved. What I would suggest, however, is that education, science and technology (for science is not the same thing as technology and the two are diverging rapidly) have so changed over the last five years that it would be naïve to assume we can simply go back to things as they were before. We are in a new world.
I hold that it would be better for Korea to go forward bravely and create new institutions that are even more appropriate to the profoundly different conditions of today. We live in a different world in 2012 than we did in 2007. If Korea can match up its government institutions closely with the implications of new technologies that are transforming our society and altering our understanding of the world, Korea will be in a position not only to be administered well at home, but also to create a new paradigm for governance with global impact. This is an age of technological disruption. I appeal to you Koreans: be bold!