Inadequate assessment of new technologies
Technology assessment gap
The concerns which led to the growth of technology assessment have generally dealt with the potential deleterious effects of technology and the need to control and monitor it from a societal point of view. The development of capabilities in the assessment of technology and related fields essentially consists of understanding what institutional structures are required, what skills are needed and have to be developed and what type of conceptual and methodological approach is best suited for the country or region in question. Assessment criteria include: employment generation, capital savings, energy conservation and efficiency, environmental soundness, and socio-cultural and economic appropriateness in terms of design and consistency with other socio-economic activities. Additionally, in the developing countries there is the overriding concern with harnessing the potential of technology to accelerate development and to deal with some of their characteristic problems of food shortage, illiteracy, unemployment, socio-economic inequity, poverty and dependence. These imply assessment criteria related to self-reliance and basic needs, reduced dependency and national autonomy, and "soft" factors such as cultural values, history and tradition. Integrated technology assessment therefore implies involvement by not only government decision makers and key economic agents but also the consideration of a broader group of users and technical experts from disciplines such as engineering, system analysis, sociology, political science and anthropology, for example. Decision makers are action-oriented rather than analytic personalities, and it is unrealistic to assume that they have the knowledge, time and patience needed to dig deeply into scientific complexities. Because of their underdevelopment, many countries do not have a sufficient pool of advising scientists and development experts, who are also as neutral as possible, to assess the appropriateness of the introduction of new development technologies and methods. Moreover, the amount of work needed to create completely new development paths, assessment methodologies and technologies is too complex costly and time-consuming to be feasible.
Technology assessment in industrialized countries is a technical venture based on technocratic assumptions about society. It is based on what might be called the "ideology of industrialization", which views social progress as a technical problem that can be accomplished through increased industrialization and rationalization of society. It reflects the interests of certain classes of society and favours certain types os social structures in both capitalist and socialist societies. It supports and serves to legitimize the concept of consensus politics wherein political issues and conflicts between different interest groups are resolved by "objective" analyses based on scientific precepts. In doing so it conceals "non-technical" factors (such as "soft", non-quantifiable data) and ignores many social actors.
If technology assessment, on the one hand, is seen as a reflective and diagnostic exercise with respect to the relationship between technological and social change, it presumes a certain minimum level of technological capacity if it is to be meaningful. On the other hand, it could be argued that those countries that lack the basic technological infrastructure are in fact in most need of a "social intelligence" capacity with respect to technology. Furthermore, many of the poorer countries depend on one or a few raw materials and commodities for their economic well-being, and many of the newly emerging technologies have serious implications for some of these commodities, for example, the potential displacement of copper as a result of developments in fibre optics. The experiences of the developed countries and the more industrialized developing countries may offer some insights, but essentially this exercise would require some fresh new conceptual thinking and perhaps a reappraisal of the technology assessment exercise as a whole.