Science, Technology and Society: Who Controls Progress?


Progress is the idea – maybe even the belief – that humanity and societies can be improved.

It is a complex, multifaceted concept that is better understood when subdivided into more specific notions, such as technical, scientific, economic or social progress. Progress remains nonetheless a disputed, even controversial notion, especially when it is related to science and technology. For instance, one can think of how ethical, economic and social issues about artificial intelligence can stir debate. Will AI reduce the importance of work in our societies? Will algorithms fundamentally alter our ways of thinking and learning? Will social robots change our inter-human relationships? ...Even if those changes are possible, are they a desirable outcome?

To which kind(s) of progress do science and technology contribute? Can economic, social and human progress work together?

Who benefits from progress? Does scientific and technological progress reduce or worsen economic and social inequality? At what levels (local, national, global) does it become profitable?

What is the downside of scientific and technological progress? Since the 1960s, progress has been blamed for global issues such as environmental crises and health disasters. Can the damages of progress be prevented, assessed or repaired?

Finally, is progress controlled, and if so, how? More particularly, what is the part played by civil society, businesses and public authorities in the control of progress?

Participants will not be asked to summarise scientific knowledge about progress. The theme should rather foster discussions in which values, political opinions, perceptions and projects for the future are debated.