Britons want gov't protection from new tech

Most respondents in a new poll express wariness of possible technological 'dangers'
Written by Matthew Broersma, Contributor

Surprise, surprise -- the British public is largely wary of technological change, according to a new poll, with 75 percent of respondents expecting the government to "warn people of the possible dangers of new technology...[even when] there is no scientific evidence that it is harmful."

The poll, carried out by the Future Foundation's nVision service, was launched during a week of scientific seminars at London's Royal Institute. Experts at the conference said the findings could have a bearing on business in the UK, affecting how quickly and widely new technology is adopted here.

Dr Frank Furedi, reader in sociology at the University of Kent, chalked the public's cautious attitude up to a changing social and moral structure. "The public are less and less able to manage change and to embrace change," he said. "People now feel at risk and are no longer risk takers, as opposed to a century ago. This has a lot to do with the current absence of religion, which operated as the 19th century's moral system, making sense of innovation in science and medicine and controlling it."

Businesses such as biotech and pharmaceutical companies should take note of the public's aversion to technological change, according to Judy Larkin, a specialist in corporate risk taking. "If [companies] are not aware of the power of emotion in the press and in the public they can find themselves faced with paying out damages," Larkin said.

The London seminars largely focused on the health effects of mobile phones. No scientific evidence has been found linking mobile phone radiation to health risks, but the government has nevertheless recommended younger children be protected from mobile phones.

This cautious system seems laudable, but in the end it can be harmful to technological progress, according to Dr Carl Djerassi of Stanford University. "In principle, the precautionary system should be applauded, but in practice it is not really realistic," he said. "The biggest risk of mobile phones is their irritation."

Reuters contributed to this report.

What do you think? Tell the Mailroom. And read what others have said.

Editorial standards