- Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School Belfer Center Newsletter

Technological Change and Opportunity - with Civic Responsibility

| Spring 2018

When I began my career in elementary particle physics, the great figures who taught and inspired me had been part of the Manhattan Project generation that developed the atomic bomb. They were proud to have created a “disruptive” technology that ended World War II and deterred a third world war. But their understanding of the technology also gave them a deep regard for the awesome risks that came with those technologies.

As a consequence, they dedicated themselves to inventing, in parallel, the technologies behind arms control and nuclear reactor safety. By working on both the bright opportunities and the complex dilemmas of nuclear technology, these scientists tried to round out its effect on humanity.

Technologists in my generation understood that we had an obligation to use our knowledge to steer technology in the direction of public good. It’s obvious that technologists today have the same obligation, and also that society is in need of practical, analytically-driven solutions to the problems that arise from fast-paced technological change.

When I was secretary of defense, a priority of mine was to address this issue in defense by building bridges between the Pentagon and the tech community. But defense is far from the only area where the public interest sorely needs the input of technical people. The Internet and social media have also created new opportunities for hostility, lies, and isolation. Automation will eliminate the jobs of millions of people, while new jobs will require retraining. The biotech revolution of coming decades will be even more consequential than the digital revolution.

Solutions to problems like these will emerge only if the new generation of young tech innovators is encouraged and inspired to assume the civic responsibilities that come with creating changes of great consequence.

(This article is summarized from “What I Learned from the People who Built the Atom Bomb” in the Nov. 27, 2017 issue of the MIT Technology Review.)

For more information on this publication: Belfer Communications Office
For Academic Citation:

Carter, Ash. “Technological Change and Opportunity - with Civic Responsibility.” Belfer Center Newsletter. Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs, Harvard Kennedy School (Spring 2018).