University Of Tasmania
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The owl of Minerva : governing technology in the quest for sustainability

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posted on 2023-05-27, 12:04 authored by Bolwell, D
Companion to the goddess of wisdom, the owl flies at dusk; understanding emerges only at the end of an era. Inspired by insights from both sides of the science and humanities divide, this dissertation surveys the terrain of sustainability before swooping upon our relationship with technology as key to its realisation. It assesses each element of the classic I=PAT equation and determines that humanity's current trajectory is not sustainable. Because effective population (P) policy acts slowly, and because reducing affluence (A) is incompatible with human aspiration, only technology (T) might moderate human impact (I) to sustainable proportions. Building on a comparative analysis of three case studies on chemical herbicides, nuclear power, and robotics and artificial intelligence that identify significant problems with present governance approaches, this study outlines an alternative. Rejecting the attitude that technological 'innovation' and 'disruption' are unquestionably good and inevitable, it argues that if sustainability is to be realised, humanity must wrest back control over the technologies we create. Supported by integrity and other measures, this implies going beyond existing approaches to a form of network governance that promises the agility to deal with complex change, while avoiding regulatory capture by commercial and military interests. At the end of this industrial era, there is need for wisdom. Providing that sustainability has priority, that its governance is inclusive, transparent and polycentric, through technology humanity may yet have a long-term future on Earth.


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