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Impact of science and technology on society essays

Page 16 Share Cite Suggested Citation: Science, Technology, and the Federal Government: National Goals for a New Era. The National Academies Press. Wind, water, and animal power, with their limitations of place and capacity, were supplemented and then replaced by the steam engine, which went on to power the factories of the industrial revolution.

The railroad made it possible to move things and people quickly over great distances. The telegraph and, later, the telephone carried communications across the countryside.

Electric lighting supplanted the dim glow of candles, kerosene, and gas lights. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the notion of progress was closely linked with technological development, and that linkage intensified in the following decades. The automobile and the airplane changed not only travel but the nature of our cities and towns. Knowledge about the causes of diseases brought new treatments and preventive measures.

Computers appeared, and soon the transistor made them smaller, more powerful, more accessible, and cheaper. Today, the system by which research impact of science and technology on society essays development leads to new products is fundamentally different than it was in the nineteenth century.

To the role of the individual inventor has been added the power of organized scientific research and technological innovation.

Organized research and development, which are increasingly international in character, have greatly increased the production of new knowledge.

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Basic insights in materials science enable the development of structures that are lighter, stronger, and more durable than anything available before. The computer and novel modes of communication, such as optical fibers, bring new, interactive modes of work and more capable machinery.

These new devices and new ways of working, in turn, speed the growth and dissemination of new knowledge. The accumulation of scientific knowledge and new technologies has transformed human life.

The rapid rate of material progress can continue, but impact of science and technology on society essays is not inevitable. The extent to which the products of science and technology are useful depends on the needs of society. Progress is more likely if we understand these differences. Only then can we effectively translate scientific and technical understanding into the techniques, tools, and insights that improve the quality of our lives.

Some, such as the semiconductor industry, the biotechnology industry, and parts of the chemical industry, were created and shaped almost entirely by ideas that grew out of science. The technologies at the heart of these industries were initially characterized more by promise than by real products. High-temperature superconductivity is a scientific discovery that shows promise of leading to new industries and is in this stage today. As science-based industries continue to develop, they remain closely dependent on continuous inputs of new science, often produced by university researchers.

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These industries depend as well on the technological development of these ideas in order to grow and to widen their range of products. At an early stage, these industries tend to be small, to move at a fast technical and competitive pace, and to have enormous potential.

Biotechnology is now in this stage. In a more mature stage, a science-based industry may still be growing quickly, but it depends ess on the progress of academic scientists. The semiconductor industry, for example, moves at a fast technical pace and requires increasingly detailed knowledge of its materials and, as the individual transistors buried in its chips become ever smaller, even of new quantum phenomena.

But its scientific needs are met almost entirely by the work of semiconductor scientists and engineers working in the plants and laboratories of the semiconductor companies. Indeed, industry scientists are often the only ones with the detailed knowledge needed to make incremental improvements in the technologies.

Another example of an industry at a mature stage is the aircraft industry, where thousands of scientists and engineers are required to deal with the enormous complexities of new plane design.

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Investments in manufacturing tools and plants are often measured in hundreds of millions of dollars. Only major companies can act on this scale, and only they have the technological knowledge and experience needed to design these complex products. They do, however, require the highest levels of technological and production know-how.

For industries that rely on high technology but are technically self-contained such as the semiconductor industry and industries that do not depend heavily on current science such as the automobile industrythe results of current fundamental research are generally not decisive. Japan, which has not been a leading research power, has exhibited great strength in such industries.

In these areas, productivity gains and product leadership can be attained by a number of strategies largely separate from scientific research but highly dependent on engineering, such as developing new technology in corporate laboratories, improving the development cycle to hasten the marketing of improved products, better coordination of design and manufacture, maximizing the creative capabilities of employees, and responding quickly to changes in consumer preferences.

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Additional university research can help, but it will be of peripheral importance to such industries. Nor can research rescue a failing industry that has difficulties in other areas. As in the case of industry, many other factors must also be in place for the goals to be achieved, but science and technology provide many of the crucial insights and techniques that enable progress. The following sections briefly describe some of the linkages between science and technology and several of these goals.

Health Care Maintenance of health and prevention of illness are among the highest goals of our society. In health care, as in other areas, science and technology are embedded in much broader social and institutional structures. For example, a research discovery can lead to experimental products in a very short time.

Yet those products may require very long lead times to bring to market because of the need to ensure their safety and efficacy. The most visible public policy issue in health care today is cost. Other new products derived from research and development, such as complex imaging devices and expensive surgical procedures, raise costs in the short term while enhancing overall care.

Still other procedures reduce unit treatment costs, but these reductions make treatments more available and thus increase demand and total costs. The development and pricing of health care products are unusual for a number of reasons. In a normal market economy, differences in the costs of technologies are reflected in the level of use.

But our current system of health care reimbursement insulates patients from the true costs. In addition, the government directly regulates many aspects of medical technology to ensure safety and control costs, further distorting market signals.

Finally, health care involves such basic human conditions as birth, disease, and ultimately death. Under such conditions, individual consumers often ignore economic considerations; yet the total cost of health care is a matter of enormous national concern. The effects of technical progress on costs depend to a large extent on the social and institutional structures surrounding the health care system.

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For example, technological superiority in the hands of a well-trained military contributed greatly to the success of the Persian Gulf War. The United States will continue to rely on this strategy to retain military advantage, but the sources of new military technology are shifting.

This segment of industry has had essentially one customer, and its requirements were focused on product performance more strongly than on cost.

In the 1950s and 1960s, the defense industry produced much technology of value to civilian industry. But today the technological sophistication of civilian industry in many cases surpasses that of the defense industry. As a result, the military has become more dependent on civilian technologies. Impact of science and technology on society essays trend will make improvements in national security more dependent on overall national economic performance.

A major challenge facing the military today is to maintain technological superiority in the face of declining defense budgets. Meeting this challenge will require a reexamination of the broad scientific and technological base that contributes to military needs, including research and development in government laboratories, in industry, and in universities.

Environmental Protection Over the past two decades, the United States has recognized and has made substantial progress in curbing the degradation of the environment. Nevertheless, difficult problems remain. Emissions and effluents of contaminated materials continue, waste disposal plagues urban areas, forests continue to be devastated, and biodiversity losses are growing. At the same time, science and technology have exposed new issues of great complexity and uncertain consequences, such as global warming, acid precipitation, the destruction of the stratospheric ozone layer, and the contamination of water supplies.

By the middle of the twenty-first century, the human population is projected to double to around 11 billion people, and, to meet their basic needs, the global economy will need to be several times larger than it is now. In some situations, existing technologies can be made cleaner and more efficient; in others, entirely new technologies, including energy technologies, will be needed.

Almost all fields of science and technology can contribute to the reduction of environmental degradation. Biotechnology, materials science and engineering, and information technologies can enable the efficient use of raw materials and prevent pollution at the source. Reducing and preventing pollution is an important goal of the new field of industrial ecology, which, by examining industrial processes, strives to maintain sustainable technological growth.

Nevertheless, even if science and technology are not sufficient by themselves to resolve societal issues, they are necessary for progress. Although such factors as better skills among workers and new methods of organizing production will continue to contribute to economic expansion, new technologies will continue to be the major force behind the generation of new wealth. Engineering, increasingly science-based, could not have achieved its present level of sophistication without its base of scientific knowledge.

This increasing integration of science and technology also applies in reverse: Given the fact that science and technology are necessary, but not sufficient, elements of human progress, we as a nation face important questions: How great an investment in science and technology should we make to meet national needs?

How can we best measure national performance in science and technology? The committee turns to impact of science and technology on society essays questions next. Productivity and American Leadership: Gelijns and Ethan A. The Changing Economics of Medical Technology.

National Academy Press, 1991. NewThinking and American Defense Technology. Carnegie Commission on Science, Technology, and Government, 1990. World Resources Institute, 1991.