The good, the bad and the ugly of innovation
We have seen how innovation can be deliberately used for good and bad intentions, but sometimes innovation unexpectedly goes wrong or has an unforeseen negative impact. This is the ugly aspect to innovation.
Thousands of years ago we humans demonstrated our oustanding ability to make tools. This meant that we could make and do things that were very difficult or impossible to do with our bare hands alone, and that gave us the edge over other animals. In particular, this meant that we could hunt animals for food. Fast forward to today and we are the major cause of a lot of animal extinctions. This has been caused by hunting animals to extinction; and, with the help of our machines, by the destruction of natural habitat:
Not only has innovation played a role in the destruction of habitat, it has also polluted the environment, from local to global scales:
» Pollution of the air you breathe, e.g. diesel vehicle emissions
» Emissions of toxins and cancer causing chemicals into air, land and water
» Pollution of rivers and aquifers with nitrates, phosphates, sewage and other chemicals
» Dumping toxic waste at sea, and its entry into the food chain
» Oil slicks at sea
» Potential contamination of food (pesticides and micro-organisms)
» The hole in the ozone layer
» Rapid increases in atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations (driving global warming)
» Plastic waste in urban areas, the countryside, on the beaches, and even in the middle of oceans
» Leaks and disasters at nuclear power stations
... and, what do we do with long-term toxic nuclear waste?
Innovation has a long and significant list of ugly impacts. Most of these were not foreseen at the time of the innovation.
There is a lesson to learn here: a greater effort should be invested in proactively anticipating what the ugly impact of an innovation might be; and proactively taking steps to ensure that ugly impact does not happen.
In the developed world our lives are dominated by machines: engines, cars, motorbikes, buses, lorries, tractors, farm machinery, trains, ships, aeroplanes, drills, lathes, telephones, radios, televisions, audio/visual recorders and players, cameras, computers, games consoles, smart-phones, printers, 3D printers, heaters, central heating boiler, kettle, ovens, microwaves, radar, refrigerators, freezers, air conditioners, hoovers, lawn mowers, hedge cutters, X-ray scanners, MRI scanners, DNA analysers, DNA printers, automated factories, various types of automated systems, ... and, our ultimate machine now and way into the future... robots!
Take a while to reflect on this. Consider the actual and potential ugly impacts associated with each machine. Record this in your Notes. You might also want to go further and suggest steps that could be taken to prevent those impacts.
Consider these innovations: genetically modified crops; genetically modified bacteria; and genetically modified humans. These aim to improve organisms or make them useful in some way. GM crops are already here, and modifications to bacteria and human cells already happen in the laboratory. Reflect on the following: what happens when all of these are widely used by many organisations and individuals? What is the potential for ugly outcomes, and how can these be prevented now? Record this in your Notes. (You may want to research some of these topics on the Internet.)
Take a while to reflect on this. Consider what AI and robots may do in the future. What is the potential for ugly outcomes, and how can these be prevented now? Record this in your Notes.
It is hoped that you will add a clause to your innovation policy to consider and prevent ugly innovations. Similarly, a step should be included in your innovation process to dedicate time to this important activity.
Please enter your note below and press the Enter key. (If you are entering a "to do" note then the calendar might be useful.)
Fri 19 Jun 16:32:27 BST 2020