What are the aims of science and technology? Which problems should we try to solve?

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The next decision we face, once we determine that it is valuable to pursue scientific and technological inquiry, is what the aims of that inquiry shall be, i.e., what problems we should try to solve. This question cannot be answered by banal exhortations to “seek the truth,” for the truth is everywhere and often easily had. Nor can it be answered by mere consideration of instrumental or practical power. We are after significant truths, or the answers to significant problems, and that significance is a question of ethical and social values. We want (or ought to want) not just any power, but the power to bring about social good rather than ill. We need to make value judgments to guide our decisions about what research is worth pursuing (and funding!), what problems are worth solving, which products are worth producing. Clearly, not every question is worth the time it takes to answer it, nor does every important problem have a technical fix.

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