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Ethical Technology – Technological Ethics

“Ethical Choices in the Age of Pervasive Technology” was the title of “A World Conference” at the University of Guelph, Ontario, from October 25-29. The Conference was held under the auspices of the University School of Continuing Education; Chair and chief organizer was Professor Henry Wiseman. More than seven hundred attended the proceedings and there were more than 100 invited speakers in 15 workshops, not including some 19 additional invited speakers spread over five plenary sessions.

The appeal and timeliness of a conference with the topic and intent of this gathering is obvious — especially for those in Science for Peace, and Janet Wood, Terry Gardner and Alan Weatherley were asked in 1988 to be coordinators for workshop number 14: “Technical and ethical choice in the field of international peace and security.” Among the speakers at this workshop were Anatol Rapoport and Alan Weatherley, while Metta Spencer and Bill Klassen acted as Rapporteur and Advisor, respectively — all are members of Science for Peace. The workshop participants were particularly fortunate to have as Chair Professor Seymour Melman of Columbia University, author of the recently published “The Demilitarized Society” and numerous other critical works on the economics of militarization. One useful experience was to have the participation of Brigadier Generals W.R. Dobson and L.T. Rowbottom of the Canadian Forces and the opportunity to debate and discuss with them the role of the Canadian military in relation to changing social attitudes and emerging global arms reduction possibilities.

The topics discussed in workshop 14 included: 1) Nuclear deterrence and risk assessment — the hidden values in strategy; 2) Technology and public perceptions of national security; 3) The great deterrent — nuclear weapons and the pursuit of security; 4) Who controls arms control?; 5) Knowledge of technology as an aid in the struggle for peace (Anatol Rapoport); 6) Use and deployment of the “military-industrial complex” in improved times for peace and security (Alan Weatherley). Each workshop was required to produce a final report containing three recommendations and three questions. For workshop 14, these were as follows:

  1. Three concluding recommendations:

  2. The Canadian government should give full support to amending the Partial Test Ban Treaty to a comprehensive Test Ban Treaty.

  3. Stop all arms trade in order to free funds and energies in both developed and underdeveloped countries for addressing their social and economic needs.

  4. Universities should undertake research to recommend public policy for designing and implementing disarmament and the conversion from a military to a civilian economy. They should initiate the training of highly qualified personnel to participate in this process, and encourage wide public discussion.

  5. Three concluding questions:

  6. Should the Canadian government not initiate and promote an international process directed toward total disarmament, as against mere regulation of the arms race (arms control)?

  7. Should not savings from disarmament be used for the purpose of meeting the hitherto unmet socioeconomic needs of the people?

  8. As countries disarm, must they not ensure that members of their armed services, defence department, and arms industries are retrained and relocated, if necessary?

The first recommendation was adopted by the general assembly at Plenary IV (Presentation and Open Forum on Workshop Findings).

The topics of the fourteen other workshops were as follows: Ethical choices and technology in: food systems; animal husbandry; media/arts/culture; computers and information systems; human development; economics; education; energy; environment; health sciences; industry; labour; law; research administration. The main function of Plenary IV was to compare the workshop reports and discover differences, common threads and generalizations.

The Conference was successful in fulfilling its major objectives, which justified the massive and sustained organizational effort it required. As might be expected in such a vast undertaking, some participants felt that there were important relevant topics and interest groups which were not included. It was apparent that many participants wanted more opportunity for presentation of individual views and questions. It is hoped that these concerns will be addressed in any future endeavours.

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