Opinion Piece : New Technologies Should Be Regulated by Government — Not by Those Who Profit

by historian and journalist Peter Montague

Between 1972 and 1995, Congress supported its own in-house think tank called the Office of Technology Assessment, or OTA. The Congress defunded OTA in 1995, thus causing it to lose much of its capacity to foresee and forestall environmental and social harm that could be avoided or mitigated by sensible government policies and actions. During its brief existence, OTA produced 750 high-quality reports on a wide range of problems that Congress was trying to understand and resolve, such as job loss from automation, the benefits and costs of mammograms, the feasibility and cost of the Strategic Defense Initiative to shoot down incoming nuclear-armed missiles, and the accuracy and reliability of lie-detector tests.

Now Congressmen Mark Takano (D-California) and Sean Casten (D-Illinois) have proposed legislation to restore OTA . . . .

. . . The market is not going to solve the lasers-pointed-at-airplanes problem. Wall Street is not going to fix the climate emergency or control the proliferation of nuclear weapons or require that plastics be made biodegradable so they do not accumulate in the environment. Corporate managers may personally desire to be “socially responsible,” but so long as they answer to shareholders expecting a hefty return on investment, they will pursue technologies that increase their profits, regardless of their ill effects on workers, community and the natural world.

[some complain that] OTA reports are biased against the rapid introduction of new technologies, which many believe are essential for growing the economy  to avoid recession or depression. . . . technology corporations may not find it in their interests to have Congress well-informed about the pros and cons of various regulatory possibilities, so restoring OTA would almost certainly require a coordinated citizen  to make it happen.

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