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Image: Johannes Romppanen

Published October 30, 2015

Technology can help us achieve sustainable well-being

While technological progress offers our society enormous opportunities, these could become threats if our structures remain too rigid.

While technological progress offers our society enormous opportunities, these could become threats if our structures remain too rigid, says Risto Linturi.

Technological development is challenging different parts of our society. The news headlines of today often tell us the story of digitisation taking over our jobs and smartphones creating more of a divide between people and reducing social interaction instead of making us more connected. But according to futurist and technology expert Risto Linturi, the future may not be so grim – if we do not allow it to become so.

“When it comes to areas such as the economy, healthcare, education, governance and work life there are more opportunities to be gained from technological development than there are threats,” says Linturi, author of a Sitra study published today and entitled Technology as an enabler of sustainable well-being in the modern society. “Key technology drivers such as robotised transport and production, biotechnology and instrumentation of everything can help us achieve sustainable well-being.”

In the report, Linturi examines how technology development affects our future: which technology trends support and enable sustainable well-being, and which trends threaten it. What are the roles of artificial intelligence, digitisation, biotechnology or nanomaterials in the pursuit of a sustainable future? How can society steer technological development in the desired directions?

“The newest technology already available on the market enables major productivity increases that have not yet been realised even by the most advanced societies,” says Linturi.

In his report, Linturi argues that possibly the most important opportunity arises from renewable energies and new materials, since they form the economic basis of sustainable well-being. On the other hand, all the technologies that create opportunities for efficient small-scale production and human-scale cohesive communities are important building blocks for a meaningful life and stable society. “However, how technologies develop is not as essential as how societies use them,” Linturi adds.

Society can influence change

Technology is so embedded in societal development that sometimes it is difficult to tell when technology development affects society or vice versa. In an open world, new technologies are present and spread throughout all societies, but the forms in which they manifest themselves differ between cultures.

In Finland, we tend to view ourselves as strong technology developers. Yet, only versatile and open-minded use of new technologies will enable us to prosper in the future too.

“Society can redirect its resources to support the development of technology, but it can also enable the adoption and spread of useful innovations, for example by setting norms and standards, introducing incentives, investing in education, directing R&D funding and through communication,” according to the author.

Linturi also argues that existing institutions can slow down change, but in so doing they increase potential turbulence. Much that might be valuable is then only gained by a small minority.

“From both the opportunities and threats we can conclude that the spread will grow between the most technologically productive ways of doing things and common contemporary practices. The digital divide may grow due to the fast pace of technological development and slow adaptation of societal structures,” Linturi warns.

“Simultaneously it is possible through empowerment of individuals and self-organising behaviour that income differences related to power hierarchies and economies of scale could shrink.”

As part of its work towards building a sustainable well-being society, the Finnish Innovation Fund Sitra has published a vision outlining the essential steps for leading a good life while remaining within the ecological boundaries of the planet. Sitra’s efforts in building this vision have been based on intensive foresight, analysis and continual expert work, allowing the vision to be supplemented or renewed with new perspectives along the way. Technological progress is one of the key drivers challenging our societies today and also has an effect on the vision as well.

“Technological progress is escalating. There is a growing urgency to understand this change, its threats, opportunities and their inherent dynamism alike,” comments Sitra’s Senior Lead Eeva Hellström, who is the main author of Sitra’s vision paper Towards a Sustainable Well-being Society.

Further information

Risto Linturi, Futurist, Chairman, Sovelto, +358 50 511 4332, risto.linturi@sovelto.fi
Eeva Hellström, Senior Lead, Sitra, +358 294 618 276, eeva.hellstrom@sitra.fi
Heli Nissinen, Specialist, communications, Sitra, +358 294 618 477, heli.nissinen@sitra.fi