Eight great technologies?

By Robert Hickson 16/10/2013

Her Majesty’s Government (ie the UK one) has just released some infographics of what it calls “Eight Great Technologies” which will be the focus of R&D to support its industrial strategy, and where Britain already has some strong existing capabilities. As infographics go they are pretty lame since they don’t convey much information. I’d just call them pictures.

8 Great Technologies

The “technologies” (in brief) are:

  • Big data
  • Satellites
  • Robotics
  • Synthetic biology
  • Regenerative medicine
  • Agri-science
  • Advanced materials; and
  • Energy storage

The BBC’s Tomorrow’s World infographic – looking out 150 years – is more engaging. So too is this one imagining the future of  health technologies.

Back to HM Gov. The eight “technologies” are unsurprising. Though they aren’t all just single, non-exclusive, or even technologies. “Big data”, for example, is a concept not a technology. And “Agri-science” is a whole sack full of stuff. You could (and some have) quibble about technologies or categories that aren’t mentioned (communications technologies, quantum technologies, the diffuse and eclectic “environmental technologies”, other medical technologies etc), but its really about marketing and promotion.

The biggest omission, though, is probably what should go in the centre of circle in the diagram above. The soft, but oh so hard, “social stuff”. As we’ve seen with genetic modification, nanotechnologies, and reproductive technologies, tax payers (and others) don’t want all the bright new shiny technologies dumped on them without some input. Government’s need to also support the societal engagement work to help scientists, business, communities and governments figure out together what some of the opportunities and challenges are with new technologies.

David Willetts, the UK Minister for Universities and Science, does acknowledge the need to think beyond just STEM – science, technology, engineering, and maths – for an innovative society. He adds in Arts to create some STEAM. He also needs to include the Humanities, to add the necessary doses of philosophy, history, ethics, and social sciences. A rather inelegant acronym however – SHATME?

While the infographics are poor the Industrial Strategy is backed up with a good analysis paper [Pdf]. Six hundred million pounds is being directed to these technologies. The UK, though, seems to have industrial strategies for Africa, so to speak. Other countries have a few high level ones, and let funding agencies and industries fill in the details. While places like NZ have too few meaty government strategies.