Which technology are you rejecting

Gene therapy? Yes. Laboratory meat? No. This is how people in Germany think of technology

Many people in Germany felt powerless to be at the mercy of digitization. However, the majority do not fundamentally reject new technologies. If they have the feeling that technology helps them personally or contributes to environmental and climate protection, many even consider state funding to be sensible. That is the result of the TechnikRadar 2020.

From Wolfgang Kerler

The people in Germany are not unconditional technology fans, but neither are they technology enemies. “Basically, people perceive technology as ambivalent,” says the social scientist Ortwin Renn in an interview with 1E9. In other words, they weigh up: What are the possible advantages of a new technology? What are the risks? What effects does it have on me, on society, on the environment?

The conclusion of this consideration may often be less euphoric in Germany than, for example, in Asian countries. But that's not surprising. "In countries with a high average quality of life, technology skepticism is greater because people lose more than they can gain if they embrace new technical developments with their ever-present uncertainties," explains Ortwin Renn. "Germany also belongs to these countries."

Ortwin Renn is Scientific Director at the Potsdam Institute for Transformative Sustainability Research and a member of the Presidium of the German Academy of Science and Engineering, in short: acatech. Together with the Körber Foundation, acatech has now brought out the TechnikRadar 2020 - a representative study for which around 2,000 people were asked about their attitudes towards technology last late summer.

Almost 49 percent of them assume that technical developments will bring a higher quality of life to future generations. Only a good 12 percent doubt it. The rest are undecided. The result is similar when asked whether technology will help us to solve the central problems facing humanity - hunger, poverty, climate change. Three quarters of those surveyed are of the opinion that technical progress cannot be stopped. Almost as many, however, find that the technology can very well be set limits.

Climate protection? Yes but.

A special focus in the survey was on the subject of bioeconomy, i.e. on technology, products and processes that could contribute to a sustainable and future-proof economic system. Be it through the replacement of fossil resources or through the use of biological knowledge. By and large, people view this type of technology benevolently, which may also be due to fundamental beliefs.

Over 70 percent are of the opinion that Germany should lead by example when it comes to climate protection. Over 75 percent think that it is important to use renewable raw materials in production. At the same time, a clear majority is of the opinion that people have no right to rearrange nature according to their needs. In an international comparison, Germany stands out. "In Germany, everything that has to do with forests and nature enjoys a particularly high priority," says Ortwin Renn.

However, that does not mean that the respondents are unreservedly positive about everything that could possibly contribute to climate or nature conservation. 74 percent share the view that one should limit one's consumption for the sake of the environment. But when it becomes concrete, approval shrinks. For example, only 33 percent are in favor of restricting private car traffic and around 30 percent are against it. The rest are not sure.

Opinions are also differentiated with regard to certain technologies or products. Over 88 percent of those surveyed think it makes sense to replace normal plastic with bioplastics made from plants. But a majority fears massive effects on the landscape or monocultures. More than three quarters think fuels from liquid manure, waste wood or compost are good, two thirds even advocate state funding. But over 42 percent consider a biofuel production plant near a residential area to be unreasonable. Only 23 percent are of the opposite opinion, the rest are undecided.

Genetically engineered grain or laboratory meat on your plate? No thanks.

Hardly any other technology is as unpopular in Germany as genetic engineering - at least when it comes to genetic engineering in the fields. A clear majority reject genetically modified plants, even if they are more resistant to pests. The assessment of genetic engineering is very different if it can save human lives. 70 percent of those questioned think gene therapies in adults are good.

How does that come about? Ortwin Renn explains the results with an individual cost-benefit analysis of the people. “Most people do not associate better nutrition with genetically modified foods. And since food prices in Germany are comparatively low, hardly anyone sees a price advantage, ”he says. "If I have cancer and genetic engineering can help me, then I also ignore possible concerns."

Meat from the laboratory, for which no animals have to be slaughtered, has few fans in Germany. Just under 16 percent think it's a good thing. "In Germany, there is a strong tendency to describe everything that appears natural as good and everything that appears unnatural as problematic," says Ortwin Renn. "Here the connection is seen less that one no longer has to breed and slaughter animals with this technology, but rather the aspect of artificiality and strangeness."

More say, please!

Only 15 percent are of the opinion that politicians are adequately informed about the consequences of technology. But 70 percent of those surveyed think that citizens should have a greater say in technology. That could be related to bad experiences. "When it came to digitization, people had the feeling that their lives were heavily influenced by technology, if not influenced by others," says Ortwin Renn. "Many had the impression that progress simply fell upon them without their being able to influence it."

So politics is in demand - and Ortwin Renn still sees cautious optimism among people that they are actually allowed to have a say in technologies from the bioeconomy. "Involving the public has the advantage that people later identify with the topic much more," he says. "Then they are also ready to acquire the necessary knowledge in order to be able to assess different options for action in a balanced manner."

If politics and business want to seek approval for technical progress, however, they should no longer rely on crude growth promises. "More important to people than productivity gains is that a technology is geared towards positive values ​​and goals, for example the protection of the environment, nature or health," explains Ortwin Renn. "Politics and business should pay more attention to this in their communication."

Cover picture: Getty Images