In western society, at the end of this second millennium, science is playing a primary role. Technological innovation is occurring at a more and more rapid pace, in this society where information is becoming increasingly wide-spread and knowledge is growing. Energy and reductionism are being replaced by networks and digitalisation. Complex, new social changes are taking place, like de-industrialisation, globalisation, unemployment and population migration. Some applications of technology have raised problems about maintaining development and, more recently, the debate has been gathering strength concerning the ethics of some applications and research.
One paradoxical feature is, clearly, that the education system and the spread of information have not kept pace with the increased, general level of knowledge. This means that the public are largely misinformed and in the dark about what science and technology are, their significance and validity, how they function and what their present limits are. Recent debate, in Italy and elsewhere, about choice, in the fields of energy, medicine and genetics, has largely been on emotive, ideological or corporate grounds; there has been little scientific debate. Science is, without doubt, a dominating force in our present world but we are far from having a science-based culture. Prevailing "culture" is tied to past forms, intellectually reluctant to understand present-day scientific, technological development. Indeed there is considerable perplexity and sometimes even direct opposition to it. The problem of "two cultures" is still a current one. The conventional view sees "values" on the one hand, and the power of "applications" on the other. Deeper analysis of science reveals, however, that values are essential to scientific theories. What is more, globalisation brings us into contact with civilisations other than western, and deeper knowledge of the characteristics of our own culture puts us in a better position to face the challenge of multiculturalism.