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Science and technology

Science and technology continue to transform the structure of production, the nature of work and the use of leisure time. Continuing advances in computer and information technology are at the forefront of the current wave of hi-tech innovation. Biotechnology galvanizes agricultural practices, pharmaceuticals development and disease prevention, though it raises a host of ethical and environmental issues. Advances in miniaturized technologies transform medical practices, materials science, computer performance and much more.

'In Markets First, it is assumed that the rapid technological advances of recent years continue, but are increasingly driven by profit motives.'

The importance of science and technology extends beyond the acquisition of knowledge and how it is used. Continuing concerns over the distribution of the benefits and costs of technological development provoke much national and international debate. Such concerns include technology transfer, intellectual property rights, appropriate technologies, trade-offs between privacy and security, and the potential for information-poor countries to find themselves on the wrong side of a 'digital divide'. The ultimate resolution of these matters influences the future development of science and technology, as well as their impacts upon society and the environment.

In Markets First, it is assumed that the rapid technological advances of recent years continue, but are increasingly driven by profit motives. Over time this may actually slow down development as basic research is given less priority. Technology transfer, intellectual property rights and other issues are tackled, but mainly to the advantage of those with greater power in the marketplace. Environmental benefits largely come about as side effects of efforts to improve the efficiency of resource use. These patterns are even more pronounced in Security First, where - in addition - the diversion of more and more public funding into security provision, coupled with social, economic and environmental crises, means slower progress all round.

Rapid advances in science and technology are also assumed in the Policy First and Sustainability First scenarios, but these are driven by different factors. Direct investment by governments, subsidies and regulation - for example, pollution taxes - play a dominant role in Policy First. In Sustainability First, these levers are overshadowed by changing preferences of both consumers and producers. In both scenarios, greater caution on the part of governments and society at large may slow technological development in some areas, but it also helps to head off serious side effects. Greater efforts are also made to share the benefits of science and technology.