Thinking the worst

Devising responses to risks as part of the overall development-process

Those who devise an exciting new technology should also try to forecast even its less-likely potential problems and work out how to deal with them well in advance


BY THE VERY fact that all of the deeply-interconnected systemic backlashes that dominate the global system are in some way affected by High-Tech, for most of them it is pretty meaningless to consider any particular aspect of High-Tech as being a ‘root cause’. After all, move around the complex system and many other aspects (maybe Capitalism-induced-competition or Population-growth) can be seen to be equally significant in triggering a given crisis. However, it is a lot easier to find shared causes for the small subset of crises that are driven directly by High-Tech – namely those crises that derive straight from Digitization, Networking, Miniaturization and Simulation (such as cyberterrorism and superbugs). The risks of those crises can all be minimized by realigning activities in order to include Pre-emptive Recovery.

The logic behind this approach to realigning an organization’s strategic goals is that the current exponential growth in High-Tech means that new discoveries and developments are already coming so thick and fast that attendant problems are inevitable. But in general, advanced economies invest vastly more into pushing forward exciting disciplines such as social networks, AI, nanotech, biotech, GM-crops and advanced healthcare than they ever do into exploring what the possible negatives could be – let alone working out how to deal with such problems far in advance of them ever occurring, or thinking how to engage widespread support.

As a result, public debate and possible regulation typically come too late and in too negative a fashion. Strident and anxious lobbyists tend to try to block, stifle or hold back potentially very-attractive developments. But that is because it is always easier for people to block something they do not fully understand – or that they worry is being allowed to run away with itself unchallenged – rather than find a way to optimize it. It is not really the fault of the lobbyists. It is primarily a result of scientists, developers, corporations and governments not doing sufficient groundwork beforehand to ensure that all exciting advancements come complete with their own safety-net.

The people most capable of devising the best defenses against potential negative side-effects such as virulent forms of internet malware, GM contamination, bioterrorism or malevolent AI, are often those with the greatest knowledge of High-Tech in the first place. Yet very few developers consider that one of their foremost professional obligations is to ensure mechanisms to overcome as many potential problems from their work as possible. Nor do governments or professional bodies or employers typically encourage them to do so.

There is another reason Pre-emptive Recovery is so important. Some people suggest that, even though there risks being a ‘perfect storm’ of global crises within the next few decades, there will also be a virtuous equivalent made up of mutually-reinforcing positive developments in Digitization, Networking, Miniaturization and Simulation that will more than compensate. But these people misunderstand the true nature of the trends involved. The reality is that the crises are themselves created by the largely-unstoppable High-Tech trends interacting with other largely-immovable trends (such as Capitalism or Religion). It is misleading to suggest that the Positives are somehow independent of the Negatives they create, let alone that by concentrating on those Positives alone then they will prevail and be sufficient to counter the growing threat of devastating backlashes.