Technological Risk

Through the ages, technology has been developed to better provide for our human needs

However, the corollary is the swift obsolescence of practices, systems as well as goods. With each new advance, older equipment becomes waste and hard-won technological skills are lost.

We have identified several key issues central to understanding technological risk, namely:

  • How to remain adaptive to new and potentially disruptive technologies?
  • How to remain alert to the unintended consequences and revenge effects of technology?
  • How to navigate the growing differences between the physical and digital worlds?
  • How to manage resource supply risks?

Anticipating and understanding technological risk is critical for any organisation that might be impacted by the potentially transformational or disruptive impacts of technology upon economic, political and social relationships.

An example of our work

Privacy and consent in a digital era

Elahi S, (2009), Information Security Technical Report

In today's digital era no one has knowledge, access or control of all their available personal information. This makes the very concepts of privacy and consent increasingly illusory and raises questions that are likely to shape not only the future form of cyberspace, but also the political, social and economic interactions within it.

The institutions tasked with regulation of the physical world are ill equipped to respond and undertake a similar role in the virtual world; the timescales, dimensions and scope are all materially different. I have attempted to set out the key dilemmas that society will have to examine in relation to privacy and consent, namely:

  • Kaleidoscope Society: shifting cultures, values and identities
    How to find common ground across a Kaleidoscope Society?
  • Individual rights v society's wellbeing
    How to balance protection of data with individual freedom of information?
  • Who owns what? Conflicting attitudes to ownership
    What are the limits between the commons domain and private property rights?
  • Tensions of scale: different temporal, geographic and political environments
    How do humans and their institutions reconcile these tensions of scale?
  • Trust and control
    In the face of the information avalanche, how to ensure societal control?

Finding acceptable answers to these questions will not be simple, as each dilemma raises difficult decisions that the diverse range of stakeholders will perceive differently. Has society the capacity to regulate these changes in the broadest sense of the word, or will the accelerating pace of technological change outstrip institutional arrangements? Issues of privacy and consent impact the very nature of society and governance, and the dilemmas highlighted above will create the world of tomorrow. Can society set in place dynamic policies that enable switching, change or adaptation? If so, how will society do this, and who will make decisions on its behalf?

The purpose of science and technology is to enlighten us and to improve our lot, yet science and technology are now the handmaidens of industry and the market place, and have no relationship with civil society and the individuals within society.

Dr J. Staman,
Director, Rathenau Institute, Netherlands, EPO Interview