ISTAS 2010, Wollongong Australia: Social implications of emerging technology stirs major interest
The June 2010 IEEE International Symposium on Technology and Society in Wollongong, Australia, was a hot topic in local and international news. More than 50 separate press interviews and reports focussed on the symposium theme, the social implications of emerging technologies. Keynote speakers included Mark Gasson from the University of Reading, looking at the potential for computer viruses to infect human implanted devices, and RFID implantee Amal Graafstra, previously subject of a cover story in IEEE Spectrum. The international symposium is organised annually by the IEEE Social Implications of Technology society (SSIT).
Conference welcomes included University of Wollongong Pro-Vice Chancellor Judy Raper, IEEE Division VI Director Mark Montrose, and SSIT Past President Janet Rochester. Professor Gordon Wallace, an engineering materials specialist, provided the first keynote speech reflecting his work with nanotechnology and the repair and enhancement of neural prosthetics. This set the tone for an exchange between technical and societal specialists regarding the implications of emerging technology.
A highlight was a roundtable chaired by William Herbert, Deputy Chair of New York State Public Employment Relations Board in which speakers on "human implantables" discussed their points of agreement and relative perspectives. In addition to Gasson and Graafstra, this discussion included Katherine Albrecht from CASPIAN Consumer Privacy, Rafael Capurro of the Steinbeis-Transfer-Institute on Information Ethics in Germany, and Roger Clarke from the Australian National University. ISTAS 2010 provided the first opportunity for several of these practitioners to meet face-to-face to discuss different perspectives. At one level, RFID is a well understood technology, but as Clarke put it, "RFID is okay in getting goods to the grocery shelves. After that it becomes problematical." Capurro summarised the challenges involved in more general terms: "Every technology changes the relationship between humans and the world ... for good and for bad."
Other keynote speakers were Colin Bennet from Victoria University speaking on privacy and Carole McCartney from Leeds University examining assumptions around the forensic use of DNA. Kevin Warwick, also of the University of Reading, spoke to the conference dinner via video link.
Other areas of SSIT focus included privacy, technology for development, and human factors related to location based services and radio-frequency identification. In all some 70 papers from 17 countries were selected by a reviewing panel of more than 130 people. The symposium had a strong multi-disciplinary flavor, with research, projects, and ideas shared by engineers, scientists, researchers in the social sciences, arts/law, humanities, decision makers in the public and private sectors.
For those who missed out, ISTAS 2011 is scheduled for Chicago. Watch for details at: http://www.ieeessit.org/
Dr Greg Adamson
Chair, IEEE Society on Social Implications of Technology, Australia
+61 423 783 527