Science and Democracy Lecture
"Catastrophic Risks: The Downsides of Advancing Technology" with Martin Rees, Institute of Astronomy, Cambridge University; Astronomer Royal; President, Royal Society (2005-2010).
With Panelists: Sven Beckert, Laird Bell Professor of History; George Daley, Children’s Hospital Boston/Harvard Medical School; Jennifer Hochschild, Henry LaBarre Jayne Professor of Government; Daniel Schrag, Director, Harvard University Center for the Environment. Moderated by: Sheila Jasanoff, Pforzheimer Professor of Science and Technology Studies
Threats from the collective 'footprint' of 9 billion people seeking food, resources and energy are widely discussed. But less well studied is the potential vulnerability of our globally-linked society to the unintended consequences of powerful technologies - not only nuclear, but (even more) biotech, advanced AI, geoengineering and so forth. These are advancing fast, and bring with them great hopes, but also great fears. They will present new threats more diverse and more intractable than nuclear weapons have done. More expertise is needed to assess which long-term threats are credible, versus which will stay science fiction, and to explore how to enhance resilience against the more credible ones. We need to formulate guidelines that achieve optimal balance between precautionary policies, and the benign exploitation of new technologies.
Martin Rees is a Fellow of Trinity College and Emeritus Professor of Cosmology and Astrophysics at the University of Cambridge. He holds the honorary title of Astronomer Royal and is also Visiting Professor at Imperial College London and at Leicester University. In 1973, he became a fellow of King’s College and Plumian Professor of Astronomy and Experimental Philosophy at Cambridge and served for ten years as director of Cambridge’s Institute of Astronomy. From 1992 to 2003 he was a Royal Society Research Professor, and then from 2004 to 2012, Master of Trinity College. In 2005 he was appointed to the House of Lords and was President of the Royal Society for the period 2005-2010. He is the author or co-author of more than 500 research papers, mainly on astrophysics and cosmology, as well as eight books (six for general readership), and numerous magazine and newspaper articles on scientificand general subjects. His main research areas are in high energy astrophysics, cosmic structure formation, and general cosmological questions. Among his many honors are the Faraday Prize (2004), the Order of Merit (2007), and the Templeton Prize (2011).
Once a semester, the STS Program, with co-sponsorship from other local institutions, hosts an installation in its Science and Democracy Lecture Series. The series aims to spark lively, university-wide discussion of the place and meaning of science and technology, broadly conceived, in democratic societies. We hope to explore both the promised benefits of our era’s most salient scientific and technological breakthroughs and the potentially harmful consequences of developments that are inadequately understood, debated, or managed by politicians, institutions, and lay publics.
All lectures and panels are free and open to the public. Co-sponsored by the Harvard University Center for the Environment, the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, and the Harvard University Graduate School of Design.