Category: Andrew Maynard

autonomous vehicle smoking

In 2014, over 32,000 people were killed in car crashes in the U.S. In 2012, more than two million Americans visited the emergency room as a result of car crashes. And an estimated 94 percent of the crashes that cause these injuries and fatalities are attributable to human choice or error. These are sobering statistics. And because human behavior is at the heart of them, they raise an interesting question: Once we can take people out of the equation, could driving your own car become as socially frowned on as other risky habits, like smoking? It’s less an intriguing hypothetical than a near-future public health question thanks to the rapid development and emergence of self-driving cars. And a new federal policy for automated vehicles from the U.S. Department of Transportation has just given self-driving cars another nudge forward. Technology coming on fast, social consequences to follow Self-driving cars have progressed in leaps and bounds in recent years. In 2004, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency launched an autonomous vehicle grand challenge: Build a robotic vehicle able to “navigate 300 miles of rugged terrain between Los Angeles and Las Vegas.” In the first event, the top-scoring vehicle managed a meager 7.5 miles. Twelve years later, autonomous vehicles are heading toward becoming commonplace. The Tesla Model S, for instance, comes ready-equipped with the company’s “autopilot.” Top car manufacturers like Ford and Volvo are investing heavily in self-driving vehicles. And Google and Uber already have test vehicles on the road. Granted, these cars don’t have to navigate the desert terrain of the DARPA challenge (although it could be argued that urban roads present an altogether tougher challenge). And they’re still far from perfect (as recent crashes involving Google and Tesla vehicles demonstrate). Even so, progress over the past decade has been meteoric, and

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complex ethics of emerging brain technologies

Imagine infusing thousands of wireless devices into your brain, and using them to both monitor its activity and directly influence its actions. It sounds like the stuff of science fiction, and for the moment it still is – but possibly not for long. Brain research is on a roll at the moment. And as it converges with advances in science and technology more broadly, it’s transforming what we are likely to be able to achieve in the near future. Spurring the field on is the promise of more effective treatments for debilitating neurological and psychological disorders such as epilepsy, Parkinson’s disease and depression. But new brain technologies will increasingly have the potential to alter how someone thinks, feels, behaves and even perceives themselves and others around them – and not necessarily in ways that are within their control or with their consent. This is where things begin to get ethically uncomfortable. Because of concerns like these, the U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine (NAS) are cohosting a meeting of experts this week on responsible innovation in brain science. Berkeley’s ‘neural dust’ sensors are one of the latest neurotech advances.   Where are neurotechnologies now? Brain research is intimately entwined with advances in the “neurotechnologies” that not only help us study the brain’s inner workings, but also transform the ways we can interact with and influence it. For example, researchers at the University of California Berkeley recently published the first in-animal trials of what they called “neural dust” – implanted millimeter-sized sensors. They inserted the sensors in the nerves and muscles of rats, showing that these miniature wirelessly powered and connected sensors can monitor neural activity. The long-term aim, though, is to introduce thousands of neural dust particles into human brains. The UC Berkeley sensors are still relatively large,

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Map showing magnetic flux lines for nickel nanoparticles

Navigating the risk landscape that surrounds nanotechnology development can be a daunting task – especially if you are an early career researcher just getting started in the field.  There are plenty of studies and speculations around what might – or might not – be risky about nanoscale science and engineering.   But surprisingly, there are relatively few guideposts to help researchers plot a sensible course through this landscape as they set out to develop successful, safe, and responsible products. Back in June, I wrote about seven basic “guideposts” that I find helpful in thinking about nanotech risks, from a researcher’s perspective.  You can read the the full article in the journal Nature Nanotechnology – here are the highlights though: 1.  Risk starts with something that is worth protecting. We usually think of nanotechnology “risk” as the probability of disease or death occurring – or in the case of the environment, damage to ecosystems – from release of and exposure to engineered nanomaterials.  Yet the risk landscape that lies between novel nanotechnology research and successful product is far more complex, and being aware of its shifting hills and valleys can help avoid early, costly mistakes. When stripped down to fundamentals, risk concerns threats to something you or others value.  Health and well-being tick the box here, alongside integrity and sustainability of the environment.  Yet so do security, friendships, social acceptance, and our sense of personal and cultural identity.  These broader dimensions of “value” often depend on who is defining them, and the circumstances under which they are being defined.  Yet they are critically important in determining the progress of nanoscale science and engineering in today’s increasingly interconnected world. 2.  “Nanotechnology” is an unreliable indicator of risk. While the products of nanotechnology do present risks that need to be understood and addressed, the term”nanotechnology”

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What is Nanotechnology

The latest video from Risk Bites takes a four minute dive into what nanotechnology is, and why it’s important.  It was created as a primer for 5th graders – which probably means that there’ll be a lot of 5th graders at heart watching it! It also takes a somewhat less than conventional approach to nanotech: The video came about after I spent some time mentoring a fifth grade teacher this summer. While developing class material on nanotech and water, we discovered that it’s really tough to find engaging and relevant online material that can help set the scene for kids just learning about nanotechnology. Hopefully this fits the bill. (More from Risk Bites on nanotechnology)

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Elon Musk's new master plan will take more than advanced tech to pull off

Elon Musk – CEO of Tesla Motors – has just revealed the second part of his master plan for the company. And it’s a doozy. Not content with producing sleek electric cars (which to be fair, was only ever a stepping stone to greater things), Musk wants to fundamentally change how we live our lives. But the road to Musk’s techno-utopia may be rocky. In 2006, Musk announced his “Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan.” Steps one to three were simple and elegant: Build [a] sports car Use that money to build an affordable car Use that money to build an even more affordable car.   But cutting through these was a fourth step that had a much stronger social goal in sight: to develop and “provide zero emission electric power generation options.” Step One: complete. Tesla, CC BY-ND   This desire to change the world for the better is apparent in “part deux” of the master plan. Steps one to three of the new plan are superficially technological goals: Create stunning solar roofs with seamlessly integrated battery storage Expand the electric vehicle product line to address all major segments Develop a self-driving capability that is 10X safer than manual via massive fleet learning.   Yet underpinning them is a revolutionary vision for transforming society. Elon Musk doesn’t just want to fast-track the transition to renewable energy and self-driving cars – he wants to rewrite the rulebook on how we build a futuristic sustainable society. Shifting the culture with new technologies This comes through loud and clear in his fourth step in the new master plan. Once there are enough privately owned fully autonomous Teslas on the road, Musk wants to co-opt them into the “Tesla shared fleet.” The concept is as simple as it is audacious: Instead of your Tesla

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How risky are the World Economic Forum’s top 10 emerging technologies for 2016

Take an advanced technology. Add a twist of fantasy. Stir well, and watch the action unfold. It’s the perfect recipe for a Hollywood tech-disaster blockbuster. And clichéd as it is, it’s the scenario that we too often imagine for emerging technologies. Think superintelligent machines, lab-bred humans, the ability to redesign whole species – you get the picture. The reality, of course, is that the real world is usually far more mundane: less “zombie apocalypse” and more “teens troll supercomputer; teach it bad habits.” Looking through this year’s crop of Top Ten Emerging Technologies from the World Economic Forum (WEF), this is probably a good thing. World Economic Forum     Since 2012, I’ve been part of a group of WEF advisers who help compile an annual list of emerging technologies that are poised to transform our lives. This year’s list includes autonomous vehicles, blockchain (the technology behind BitCoin), next-generation batteries and a number of other technologies that are beginning to make their mark. The list is aimed at raising awareness around potentially transformative technologies so that investors, businesses, regulators and others know what’s coming down the pike. It’s also an opportunity for us to think through what might go wrong as the technologies mature. Admittedly, some of these technologies would stretch the imagination of the most creative of apocalyptic screenwriters – it’ll be a while, I suspect, before “Graphene Apocalypse” or “Day of the Perovskite Cell” hit the silver screen. But others show considerable potential for a summer scare-flick, including “brain-controlling” optogenetics and the mysterious sounding “Internet of Nano Things.” Putting Hollywood fantasies aside, though, it’s hard to predict the plausible downsides of emerging technologies. Yet this is exactly what is needed if we’re to ensure they’re developed responsibly in the long run. Sometimes we need to head back to

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Science communication guiding principles

A few days ago, I was asked to articulate my “rules” for effective science communication. I don’t actually have a check-list for developing science communications (and I’m not sure that a rigid check list would be such a good idea).  But I do have an informal (and until now not clearly articulated) framework that informs how I communicate, whether I’m being asked to comment on something with just a few minutes notice, or crafting an article or video from the ground up. This has evolved over the years, and reflects my professional experiences, my personal ethos and values, and – importantly – my responsibilities and ethic as an academic and an educator. Being asked about my “rules” got me reflecting on this informal framework, and how to articulate what’s important to me and why, as I communicate about and around science. The result was the (personal) guiding “questions” below (I formerly referred to them as “principles, but they’re really just a bunch of questions).   They’re admittedly a little earnest-sounding.  But that aside, they do capture what goes through my head when I put on my communication hat.   What is the purpose of the communication? Am I primarily setting out to engage, educate, or inform my audience? What do I want to achieve through this communication? (This will depend on the state of the science and messaging, and so is iterative with points further below) Who is my target audience? Who am I primarily communicating with, and why? Who else will this communication be useful to and used by? Are there unintended audiences that may not find the communication helpful, and how will I balance their perceptions and responses with my primary audience? What is the state of the science? What is known, and what is not? What is the

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Single walled carbon nanotubes

Just a few years ago, carbon nanotubes were front and center of discussions around the safety of engineered nanomaterials.  These days, not so much. So what happened?  Did we do the science and discover that they’re just as safe as any other form of carbon? Or did they simply slip off the safety radar? In this month’s edition of the Journal Nature Nanotechnology, I take a look at where the state of the science is. And the verdict?  Used responsibly, the health risks of carbon nanotubes can be reduced.  But this remains a material that could cause substantial problems in the wrong hands. The article can be accessed in full from the link below if you are in the US (if you hit a paywall and would like to read it, let me know). Are we ready for spray-on carbon nanotubes? As artists and manufacturers explore the use of spray-on carbon nanotube coatings, Andrew D. Maynard explores the state of the science around nanotube safety. Nature Nanotechnology 11, 490-491, 2016. DOI: 10.1038/nnano.2016.99 From the article: “[in 2015] Günter Oberdörster and co-authors published what is possibly the most comprehensive review of carbon nanotube toxicology studies to date. Focusing on inhalation of nanotubes, they document evidence of transient pulmonary inflammation, and rapid and persistent development of granulomatous lesions and interstitial fibrosis on exposure to single- and multiwalled carbon nanotubesin rodents. They cite data indicating that inhaled long and thin multiwalled carbon nanotubes can move to the lining surrounding the lungs and penetrate it, where they can potentially cause mesothelioma. Furthermore, the authors indicate that carbon nanotubes can act as a cancer promoter — with inhalation increasing the probability of developing lung cancer from exposure to other carcinogens.” There’s a lot more in the article, but the bottom line is that the current sate of the science indicates that, if

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How to give the perfect scientific presentation

Too often, it seems, the mark of a “good” scientist is the ability to give an excruciatingly embarrassing and incomprehensible scientific presentation – the sort of presentations that litter academic conferences. Borne out of long-standing frustration, I posted a tongue-in-cheek 12-point plan for the “perfect” presentation on Twitter yesterday: How to give the best scientific presentation – ever! pic.twitter.com/pezmgkZIDZ — Andrew Maynard (@2020science) June 4, 2016 (You can download the PDF here.) Although on the surface this was a bit of fun, it was the result of years of frustration sitting through inept, ineffective presentations at scientific meetings. The thing that broke the camel’s back was the realization that, in some places at least, graduates and early career scientists are actually being mentored in giving embarrassingly bad presentations! This really needs to change. (And feel free to add additional rules in the comments!) Update June 11 2016 – you can now download the 12 steps to a perfect scientific presentation as a PDF slide deck here: Update June 12 2016 – And to complete the set, here’s the Bingo Score Card – no conference presentation should be without it!

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Nanoparticles in baby formula

There’s a lot of stuff you’d expect to find in baby formula: proteins, carbs, vitamins, essential minerals. But parents probably wouldn’t anticipate finding extremely small, needle-like particles. Yet this is exactly what a team of scientists here at Arizona State University recently discovered. The research, commissioned and published by Friends of the Earth (FoE) – an environmental advocacy group – analyzed six commonly available off-the-shelf baby formulas (liquid and powder) and found nanometer-scale needle-like particles in three of them. The particles were made of hydroxyapatite – a poorly soluble calcium-rich mineral. Manufacturers use it to regulate acidity in some foods, and it’s also available as a dietary supplement. Needle-like particles of hydroxyapatite found in infant formula by ASU researchers. Westerhoff and Schoepf/ASU, CC BY-ND Looking at these particles at super-high magnification, it’s hard not to feel a little anxious about feeding them to a baby. They appear sharp and dangerous – not the sort of thing that has any place around infants. And they are “nanoparticles” – a family of ultra-small particles that have been raising safety concerns within the scientific community and elsewhere for some years. For all these reasons, questions like “should infants be ingesting them?” make a lot of sense. However, as is so often the case, the answers are not quite so straightforward. What are these tiny needles? Calcium is an essential part of a growing infant’s diet, and is a legally required component in formula. But not necessarily in the form of hydroxyapatite nanoparticles. Hydroxyapatite is a tough, durable mineral. It’s naturally made in our bodies as an essential part of bones and teeth – it’s what makes them so strong. So it’s tempting to assume the substance is safe to eat. But just because our bones and teeth are made of the mineral doesn’t

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image-20160328-17824-d98u5v

Back in 2008, carbon nanotubes – exceptionally fine tubes made up of carbon atoms – were making headlines. A new study from the U.K. had just shown that, under some conditions, these long, slender fiber-like tubes could cause harm in mice in the same way that some asbestos fibers do. As a collaborator in that study, I was at the time heavily involved in exploring the risks and benefits of novel nanoscale materials. Back then, there was intense interest in understanding how materials like this could be dangerous, and how they might be made safer. Fast forward to a few weeks ago, when carbon nanotubes were in the news again, but for a very different reason. This time, there was outrage not over potential risks, but because the artist Anish Kapoor had been given exclusive rights to a carbon nanotube-based pigment – claimed to be one of the blackest pigments ever made. The worries that even nanotech proponents had in the early 2000s about possible health and environmental risks – and their impact on investor and consumer confidence – seem to have evaporated. So what’s changed? Artist Anish Kapoor is known for the rich pigments he uses in his work. Andrew Winning/Reuters Carbon nanotube concerns, or lack thereof The pigment at the center of the Kapoor story is a material called Vantablack S-VIS, developed by the British company Surrey NanoSystems. It’s a carbon nanotube-based spray paint so black that surfaces coated with it reflect next to no light. The original Vantablack was a specialty carbon nanotube coating designed for use in space, to reduce the amount of stray light entering space-based optical instruments. It was this far remove from any people that made Vantablack seem pretty safe. Whatever its toxicity, the chances of it getting into someone’s body were vanishingly

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Peanut-Feature

Peanut allergy continues to increase, and affects an estimated 1% – 3% of the population in Western countries.  Yet we’re still not clear what the cause is. A recent British study though is indicating that exposing infants to peanuts early in their life can – surprisingly perhaps – decrease the chances of them later developing an allergy. The LEAP study – or Learning Early About Peanut allergy – found that, with children who were at risk of developing a peanut allergy, avoiding peanut products for the first five years of their lives were seven times more likely to develop an allergy than those that were regularly exposed. And their latest research suggests that this resistance to allergy continues, even after a period of avoiding peanut products. You can find out more abut the study and its results in the latest video from Risk Bites: This was a collaboration with the YouTube channel ACS Reactions – you can see their half of the allergy story here:  

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Want to uniquely inspire kids about science

Between April 25 – May 6, I’m A Scientist USA will once again be pitting some of the country’s smartest young scientists against middle and high school kids, in the quest to be the Last Scientist Standing. If you’re up for the challenge, you have until April 4 to throw your hat into the ring! I’m A Scientist is an online competition that allows school kids of all backgrounds and abilities to engage with scientists in ways that they would never usually have the chance to.  It’s open to scientists from academia, industry and the public sector. I’m admittedly a little biased here as a member of the I’m A Scientist USA Advisory Board, and a winner in the original UK competition (where it all started). That said, I would rank this as one of the most exciting, rewarding and transformative experiences you can take part in if you’re a young scientist with a passion for inspiring others – especially middle and high school students. Why I’m A Scientist is different What makes I’m A Scientist different from many other “communication opportunities” is that the kids call the shots – with a little help from their teachers and the I’m A Scientist team. As a contestant (and be warned – competition’s fierce to get accepted) – you are placed in a “zone” with four other scientists (“the competition”), and assigned to a group of school classes. Over the competition’s two weeks, your kids (and you’ll get to know some of them pretty well), post questions to the zone, sometimes directing them to you personally.  These can be about pretty much anything – from why’s the sky blue, to what makes a black hole, to what do you do all day (and even what’s your favorite food). You’ll also have a few incredibly intense live chats with

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Public universities must do more

The water crisis in Flint, Michigan, has been in the national headlines for months, culminating in its central role at a recent debate in the city when Democratic presidential hopefuls Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton slammed government officials for dismissing the health of residents. Sadly, not every marginalized community can depend on a political debate to highlight its cause. But in the absence of media frenzies and heavy-hitting politicians, to whom can beleaguered citizens turn? Before Flint’s water issues hit the big time, help arrived from two unexpected sources – Dr. Mona Hanna-Attisha, an assistant professor at Michigan State University and director of the Pediatric Residency Program and Hurley Medical Center, and Professor Marc Edwards of Virginia Tech. Their interventions put the Flint water crisis on the map, ultimately leading to the national attention it’s received. Hanna-Attisha and Edwards both work for large public universities. Yet it was their personal actions – not those of their institutions – that gave the citizens of Flint a voice. How much more could have been achieved if public universities themselves had spearheaded efforts to address the water crisis in Flint from the get-go? This is a question I’ve grappled with for some time – both in my current position at Arizona State University (ASU) and previously. At the University of Michigan, for instance, I led a center that sought to connect academic research on risk to ordinary people who could use it. We were successful, although the only record of that now resides on the Internet archive site Wayback Machine. Even with this success, there were many times that I felt it was despite the institution we were a part of, rather than because of it. ‘Costs of doing science’ for the public good Unfortunately, as I’ve experienced firsthand, there’s a stark disconnect

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Three ways synthetic biology could annihilate Zika and other mosquito-borne diseases

In just a few short weeks, Zika has shot from being an obscure infection to a headline-hitting public health disaster. The virus is spreading rapidly across the Americas (and potentially beyond), is suspected of being associated with birth defects that affect brain development and currently has no specific vaccine or treatment. Understandably, scientists are scrambling to respond to what the World Health Organization is now calling a “Public Health Emergency of International Concern.” In the arsenal of weapons against the mosquito-borne disease, there are tried and tested approaches that include the liberal application of insecticides and repellents, widespread use of mosquito nets and elimination of breeding sites. Yet to combat Zika and other mosquito-borne disease, more is needed. Which is why scientists are increasingly turning to emerging technologies such as synthetic biology for solutions. The joke goes that if you get 10 synthetic biologists in a room together, you’ll get 10 different explanations of what they do. After all, synthetic biology is a young and rapidly evolving field. But underneath this lack of clarity lies a clear and profound shift in our technological capabilities – the ability to “upload” genetic code to computers, edit and manipulate it, and then “download” it into living organisms. In effect, we’ve discovered how to hack biology – how to code in DNA and computer-design living things. It’s early days yet – biology is complex and messy and doesn’t follow the same rules as computer code. But increasingly, scientists are learning how to use synthetic biology to change how organisms operate – including insects that carry dangerous human diseases, such as Zika. Aedes aegypti mosquitoes carry Zika, dengue and chikungunya. Paulo Whitaker Turn off a gene and goodbye mosquitoes Using synthetic biology-based genetic engineering techniques, the British company Oxitec (owned by U.S.-based Intrexon Corp) has

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Can citizen science empower disenfranchised communities

Early in 2015, a group calling itself the Nappy Science Gang hit the parenting scene in the U.K. It was made up of moms and dads who used cloth nappies – or diapers – with their kids, and wanted to know the best ways to keep them clean and safe. The Nappy Science Gang is part of a growing global movement toward citizens getting involved in science. Over the past few years, there’s been an explosion of opportunities for ordinary people to collect data for researchers, and sometimes help analyze it. Platforms such as Zooniverse, Scientific American and SciStarter are all helping citizens (anyone who’s part of a community, in this context) connect with scientists and get involved with the process of scientific discovery. Without doubt, the movement is enabling more people than ever before to become engaged in science and to contribute toward scientific progress. Yet in many of these citizen science projects, researchers remain firmly in the driver’s seat – asking the questions, setting the agenda and making sense of the data. They’re big on engagement, maybe not so much on empowerment – especially when it comes to issues that directly affect participants’ lives. Citizens setting the science agenda This is where the Nappy Science Gang is different. It represents an emerging trend where citizens partner with experts to do the science that’s useful to them and their community, not just someone else. Partnerships like this can have wide-reaching consequences. One question asked by the Nappy Science Gang, for instance, was: why are biological detergents not advisable for washing cloth diapers? Despite this being the advice given by organizations like the U.K. National Health Service, the group’s research findings didn’t seem to support it. So they asked one of their expert advisers for help. Unable to explain things,

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Technology innovation and life in the 21st century Views from Civil Society

In 2009, I commissioned ten guest articles on technology innovation from people working for, associated with or generally reflecting the views of Civil Society groups. Over six years on, these essays still present insightful and often challenging views on technology innovation, and are well worth a revisit. The aim was to expose readers to perspectives on technology innovation that are sometimes drowned out in mainstream conversations, and to give a sense of the breadth of opinions and perspectives that are often lumped under the banners of “civic society” or “Non Government Organizations.” You may not agree with everything that’s written (I’d be surprised and disappointed if you were).  But whether you are a tech believer, a tech skeptic, or somewhere in between, I hope these articles will inform, challenge, surprise, and even amuse you. Biopolitics for the 21st Century Marcy Darnovsky, Center for Genetics & Society Innovation for whom? Innovation for what? The Impact of Ableism Gregor Wolbring, University of Calgary Beyond safety: some bigger questions about new technologies Georgia Miller, Friends of the Earth Innovation for a well-fed world – what role for technology? Geoff Tansey, Food Ethics Council Stop and Think: A Luddite Perspective Jen Sass, Natural Resource Defense Council (NRDC) A new era of responsible innovation Richard Owen, University of Westminster Ecology and Nanotechnology Richard Worthington, Loka Reversing the Technological Dilemma George Kimbrell, International Center for Technology Assessment (ICTA) Innovation in the Doc Tim Jackson, University of Surrey 21st Century Tech Governance? What would Ned Ludd do? Jim Thomas, ETC Group

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What will it take to master the fourth industrial revolution

In April 2000, Bill Joy famously wrote in Wired Magazine: Our most powerful 21st-century technologies – robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotech – are threatening to make humans an endangered species. At the time, Joy was an accomplished technologist and chief scientist at Sun Microsystems. Yet he argued passionately that society was in danger of being destroyed by the very technologies scientists and engineers thought could save it. Nearly 16 years on, Klaus Schwab, founder of the World Economic Forum (WEF), has just published an equally passionate treatise on the power of emerging technologies. Unlike Joy, he maps out a vastly more optimistic future where technology innovation – and our ability to harness it – becomes a powerhouse for social and economic growth. Technology as a revolutionizing force for good Klaus Schwab founded the World Economic Forum in 1971 to ‘improve the state of the world.’ World Economic Forum, CC BY-NC-SA In his new book The Fourth Industrial Revolution – published to coincide with the WEF annual meeting in Davos – Schwab argues that we are at the beginning of a technological revolution that “is fundamentally changing the way we live, work, and relate to one another.” At the heart of Schwab’s revolution is an accelerating convergence between our increasingly powerful technological capabilities. Autonomous vehicles, 3D printing, gene editing, robotics, artificial intelligence, the Internet of Things – these and many more emerging trends, he suggests, are arising from an unparalleled melding of physical, biological and digital worlds. These coalescing capabilities are both transforming and being transformed by society. And it is this tight coupling that, to Schwab, signals a new era of technology innovation. Just as the widespread use of steam, electricity and computers have in the past revolutionized society, so, he argues, will this new wave of technological convergence. Are

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What if we approach risk like entrepreneurs approach innovation

If you’ve been following this month’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES), you’ll know with absolute certainty that the future is cool, shiny and stuffed to the brim with “must-have” gadgets. Reading the ebullient reports, you’d be hard-pressed to find anything other than overflowing optimism for how technology will transform our lives. And admittedly, it’s hard to imagine how smart shoes or a rollable TV screen could possibly be bad for us. From virtual reality so “there” you can almost touch it, to the Internet of every imaginable thing, we’re being dazzled by the seemingly infinite possibilities that modern tech has to offer. But I wonder whether, in all the buzz and hype, we’re in danger of losing sight of the darker side of technology innovation. CES and similar expos represent the glitzy face of deeper trends that could be destructive if developed without a sophisticated appreciation of potential risks. All technologies come with risks With the uncritical enthusiasm around CES, it’s easy to ignore the potential consequences of irresponsible technology innovation. It’s even easier to turn a blind eye to the challenges we face in developing technologies that are good for society as a whole, and don’t just enrich those who create them. Take for example robotics, artificial intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) – three trends that were amply represented at the show. While each holds the potential to profoundly change our lives for the better, these technologies are by no stretch of the imagination intrinsically safe. Fears over the consequences of irresponsible AI development have already been widely voiced, and the rapid rise of the Internet of Things threatens to make everyday objects vulnerable to cyber attacks. And all three have the potential to widen the gap between the privileged and the disadvantaged. In today’s evolving social

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Steampunk smart pill

It’s that time of year again when technology pundits peer into their crystal balls, and predict the hottest tech trends of the coming twelve months. Let’s be honest though, these lists can get a little stale. So I thought I’d break ranks this year by imagining what a top tech trends list would look like in a “steampunk” world, where steam engines, clockwork mechanisms, and retro-artistic flair, rule supreme.

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2020 Science is published by Andrew Maynard - Director of the Risk Innovation Lab at Arizona State University. More ... 

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