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Scientific Research & Technological Advancements: Risks & Benefits

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

How are science and technology related? What are the risks and benefits of technological advancement? Learn about how technology has improved our lives and created potential problems. After, take a quiz to see how your knowledge has advanced.

Scientific Research & Technological Advancements

Science and technology are two sides of the same coin. Science is where we investigate the natural world and learn things about it, while technology is where we use that knowledge and apply it to achieve certain goals. That's really all technology is: the application of our scientific knowledge. So, that's everything from knives and forks to high-tech computers.

Technology has completely changed our world and the way humans live, but it's hard to argue that all those changes have been good. In this lesson, we're going to discuss the risks and benefits of technological advancements and the scientific research that leads to them.

Risks

You don't have to look far to find ethical and safety risks associated with technology. Probably the most famous examples in history are the technologies used during war. The most famous of these is likely the atomic bomb that was dropped on Japan. The Manhattan Project was the research and development process in the United States to develop the first nuclear weapon during World War II.

Unofficial 1940s Manhattan Project emblem
Unofficial 1940s Manhattan Project emblem

Since this was a new technology, based on our knowledge of physics, many scientists were employed as part of the project. One of the most famous, Robert Oppenheimer, was the director of the lab that designed the weapons. Later in life, he commented on his extreme guilt for taking part in the project, famously quoting Bhagavad Gita by saying, 'Now I am become death.' The experience was hard for everyone who is involved in it because the consequences to human life was so drastic.

Robert Oppenheimer
Robert Oppenheimer

But there are other examples of potential ethical dilemmas in scientific research and technology. There are things like genetic engineering, where people worry that we might one day create super-humans that will outcompete regular humans. There is surveillance technology, making people wonder how human rights could be violated. People ask questions about whether we're going where only God should tread, and whether we should do something just because we can. The implications of many of these technologies are complex and philosophical.

But the feelings of civilians about these technologies is important, because it influences where we go as a society. Things like stem cell research are progressing much slower because people have concerns about them. People's feelings can increase the speed of scientific and technological progress, or slow it down. So, these are very important conversations to have.

Benefits

Aside from the risks, there are also many benefits to technology. Are we better off today than we were in the past? Although people like to talk about 'the good old days,' when analyzed objectively, it's hard to argue that there was ever a time better than today. People live longer, healthier lives. People work less hard for the same goods produced. And we have so many options for how to live and entertain ourselves - so many we could never experience them all. And all these things are as a result of technology.

Graph of life expectancy
Graph of life expectancy

Perhaps the biggest benefit to technological advancement is medical technology. These days, we can kill bacteria using antibiotics, we can give people blood transfusions, we can take pictures of the inside of the human body, and we have machines that can breathe for people and beats their hearts for them. The things we do today to help save lives are amazing, and all of these things are examples of technology.

MRI scanner
MRI scanner

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