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​​Background

Advances in technology in the 21st century are profoundly reshaping the human landscape. Although technology has been a part of human civilization from the beginning, its influence today is pervasive, affecting every aspect of human existence. The speed of technological change today, furthermore, is unprecedented. As the global community finds itself in the midst of what many have come to call the 4th Industrial Revolution, the impact of technology on society, and on the human condition, needs to be critically appraised and examined.

On the one hand, the 4th Industrial Revolution will generate ample opportunities for innovation that would benefit humanity. There can be no doubt that technological progress through rapid advances in areas such as artificial intelligence, robotics, personalized medicine, Internet of Things, blockchain, autonomous systems, and renewable energy promise a better tomorrow. Indeed, the global population continues to grow, and as many countries confront an ageing population, technological solutions will become increasingly important. On the other hand, technological change also brings forth formidable challenges to society and the environment. It disrupts established socio-political and economic patterns, and impacts human relationships and value.

Against this background, an NTU Institute of Science and Technology for Humanity (NISTH) has been established at NTU.

The institute seeks to establish NTU and Singapore as a centre of excellence in the Science, Technology and Society arena.  As a leading global centre of science and engineering, NTU is home to cutting-edge innovation that drives scientific and technological change.  Leveraging this advantage, NTU aims to take the lead in harnessing the power of technology for the benefit of society, which requires close collaboration between the arts and science, engineering and medicine, local government and international partnership.

Thematic Clusters

ISTH at NTU aims to propel research and public discourse on the social context of scientific and technological innovation, as well as the consequences of technological intervention in society.

The  Institute will champion interdisciplinary research on science and technology studies and seek to bring together academia, nonprofit organizations, government and industry in navigating the complex course of development. NTU has announced an ambitious Smart Campus plan, which aligns closely with Singapore’s Smart Nation initiative. NISTH will leverage the strengths of NTU in technological innovation, as well as in Science and Technology Studies (STS), and address the many challenges that inevitably arise in the adoption of new technologies in society. A truly smart city is not only technologically advanced but also able to harness the power of technology in enhancing social harmony and human flourishing.

NISTH will focus particularly on the impact of the 4th Industrial Revolution on urban Asia. Whereas most centres devoted to the study of Science, Technology and Society (STS) look at broad subject areas such as Artificial Intelligence (AI), Big Data, and Life Sciences.  NISTH will adopt a thematic approach cutting across these areas in order to be more distinctive and fruitful. Initially, the Institute may focus on the following themes, which require multidisciplinary collaboration:



  1. Responsible Innovation
    This theme addresses the ethical implications of innovations such as nanotechnology, personalized medicine, unmanned ground and aerial vehicles, and bioengineering that will have wide impact on society.

    Technology use will be a secondary focus. This is because responsible innovation must also be responsive to real human needs, which requires input from designers, behavioral psychologists and cognitive neuroscientists.

    If technology needed “decoding” to ensure it benefits humanity, then the human experience should be “encoded” into the very process of innovation from the beginning, lest we end up needing to address new problems that may arise with the introduction of new technologies. This is the underlying thread that joins thes​e two sub-themes.

  2. Governance and Leadership in the Technological Age
    As both the range and speed of technological development escalate, governance of science and technology will also become increasingly complex and challenging, negotiating between competing interests and balancing benefits and risks will be instrumental to sound governance that strengthens the foundation of human flourishing.
    In addition, advances in AI and data analytics are transforming the processes of decision making itself. Whether in the public domain or the private sector, technology is redefining the very notion of informed judgment, strategic decision and leadership. This has implications for not only policy making but also education, as the attributes and requisite skills of an educated person will also evolve with advances in technology.
  3. New Urban Asia
    Technology is fast transforming the urban landscape of Asia. Autonomous vehicles, underground spaces, and smart city systems, to cite but some of the more conspicuous examples, will shape the urban environment in the not-too-distant future. Beyond infrastructure, how do human beings relate to one another and the environment, and the kind of community that will emerge as a result will need to be considered. If the influence of technology is pervasive, it may be prudent to recall that the word “influenza” shares the same root. Will the new urban Asia be highly stratified, or is it possible to infuse the web of human relationships now pervaded by technology with the kind of caring community spirit, or what is called in Singapore, “kampong spirit” that ensures social urban health in 21st century Asia? Comparative studies of urban centres, whether metropolises or smaller cities, will shed much needed light on the direction of growth in Asia.

 
Inter-thematic collaborations will also be encouraged, as many of the critical issues to be addressed such as ethics, privacy and secure community, human enhancement, and environmental governance are multi-dimensional. As the physical, digital and biological worlds converge, the central question of, "what does it mean to be a human being in the 21st century?" should rightly command our full attention. This will be the overarching Theme of the Institute.

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