Our Development Perspective


SETI is critical for human development
Human well being has improved substantially during the last 50 years. Figures from the Human Development Index show that average life expectancy has been extended by 20 years, adult literacy has increased by 20% and Gross Domestic Product (adjusted for purchasing power) has increased five fold. These are some of the benefits of a long-term trend of human development that has been built on economic growth and the application of science, engineering, technology and innovation (SETI).

Whilst acknowledging the positive and far-reaching benefits of development, we also recognise the enormous challenges that we continue to face. Progress has been very uneven and poverty remains a persistent problem in many parts of the world. Inequality is growing between and within nations and we face new and unprecedented challenges as a consequence of climate change. If we fail to respond to these challenges, the long-term trend of human development could stall and even be reversed.

Meeting the needs of a growing global population requires an acceleration of wealth creation and distribution of the benefits in ways that reduce hunger, poverty and inequality. But rapid economic growth has often been accompanied by a range of adverse environmental impacts that directly impact on poor people. Future growth must be achieved in ways that also protect and enhance the natural systems that underpin our ability to create wealth now and in the future. This will be impossible without the effective application of SETI.


Development is primarily concerned with policies, institutions and issues of power. Those responsible for SETI policy and application have not always understood this leading to technocratic solutions that have not met the needs of the poor. They have also tended to focus too much on the hardware and not enough on the policies, systems and procedures that surround that hardware and are used in its application.

For SETI knowledge to be effective, it must be integrated into the social, economic and institutional aspects of development. Engineers and technologists do not need to become specialists in these areas, but their education and professional development should equip them to join their knowledge with that of other specialists through interdisciplinary approaches.


Too often the poor have been passive recipients of externally-derived technology. Policy-makers and practitioners must create spaces that are accessible to poor people and enable them to become active and creative partners in SETI policy and practice. This must encompass broader questions about how SETI agendas are framed and the social, political and economic purposes they serve.

Date Published: 9 December 2013
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