I recently attempted to write an article with the above title for a writing competition that I randomly decided to enter. I have to admit that I failed miserably. It’s a pretty hard topic to write about (or at least I thought so). A few months later, I still I haven’t changed my mind (that it’s hard, and I’m a failure at writing about it), but at least I’ve thought about it a bit more. Unfortunately, even with months of thought, I have not managed to justify working on quantum information science in this context, although no one can say I haven’t tried.

I think one pretty big problem with writing about this topic is in defining what you mean by “more equitable and sustainable”. Because I can imagine many scenarios that fulfill that criterion and that are still undesirable. Imagine a world where 95% of all people had died leaving the remainder living in equalitarian hunter gatherer societies. Overall, it would be more equitable and sustainable than the world we live in today, but I still refuse to believe that the role of science and technology should be to design a virus to kill 95% of the world population.

So I’ll be scientific about it. I’ll assume my target world, which I will hereafter call utopia because it’s traditional, is one in which the world population is maintained at its current population, and people live relatively happy lives and only die of old age.

Thus (and I use thus loosely) this makes the number one important discovery of science and technology a tie between medicine in general and birth control (I’m sorry, I just don’t believe abstinence is a worldwide possibility). If we’re going to maintain a fixed population, people can’t have too many kids. If we don’t want their kids to die of horrible diseases, we have to give them medicine. If we’re not going to decrease the world population, we also need good agriculture, irrigation, fertilizer, food transportation and storage etc., because there are lots and lots of people who need lots and lots of food near them. I guess I could continue to think of things people in Utopia would need, but it’s boring to write about so I bet it’s even more boring to read about.

Anyway, so far these things all exist already, so really it’s the role of politics and society to bring them to everyone. What use is novel research then? Is there a point to that? Why spend your time making faster microprocessors or building the LHC? A lot of research is market driven, and most does not respond to the needs of the poorest people in society or to lowering CO2 emissions. It seems like Utopia could mainly be achieved with already existing technology if people were just a lot less selfish (except we probably need a better source of sustainable energy to keep people living the lifestyle they are now, and there are some diseases left to be cured).

This is the point I couldn’t get past when I wrote the article the last time. What’s the point of new science and technology at all? Things like iphones and laptops are not useful to the world as a whole in any way.

But now I’ve thought a some more. And I’ve realized that the main point is that it hasn’t. It hasn’t what you say? I mean the world is not equitable, and it’s not sustainable. Politicians, sociologists, churches and anyone else whose job it might be to institute the changes necessary to make the world a utopia have not done this. It’s unclear that they’re even making that much progress, the useless gits. Maybe science and technology research in general hasn’t made our world a utopian idyll, but neither has anything else. And science has made life a lot better for a lot of people, what with medicine keeping us from dying, and agricultural improvements keeping up with the increasing population (which birth control means that the population is sustainable at a fixed size without people dying young). People in the western world now live like the kings of old. It’s a lot easier to be rich when science and technology has made a lot more resources a lot easier to attain. On the darker side, it’s also a lot easier to die now when you go to war.

Maybe more science will someday make it so easy for everyone to be “rich” that even greedy politicians can’t mess it up. Or maybe it won’t. Some science is ethical and helpful and some science is probably only going to hurt people. Science has already invented one surefire way to destroy the world. Who knows, it might someday invent a surefire way to save it. I like to hope that this is the case. If not, just take comfort in the fact that a radioactive wilderness is pretty equitable and sustainable too.