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Last year, I made a short series of videos on health risks  with risk communication expert Brian Zikmund Fisher, exploring such concepts as feelings, the unknown and “dread”.  These are now available in an eight and a half minute YouTube playlist – just in time to coincide with Brian’s NPR interview yesterday with the legendary Robert Siegel on risk yesterday. You can also watch them one by one by following the links below (click to play)

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It’s been hard to avoid the buzz surrounding nano quadrotors this week, following the posting of Vijay Kumar’s jaw-dropping TED talk – and the associated viral video of the semi-autonomous machines playing the James Bond theme. The quadrotors are impressive – incredibly impressive.  But I’m sure I am not the only person watching these videos who felt a shiver of apprehension about where the technology might lead. When people talk about emerging technologies – especially when the focus is on potential risks and unintended consequences – it doesn’t take long for the usual suspects to emerge: with nanotechnology, synthetic biology and geoengineering usually appearing toward the top of the list.  But I wonder whether focusing on big, well-publicized technology trends sometimes masks some of the less discussed but more important technology innovations that are already impacting on people’s lives. Tim Harper and I underscored this concern in a report from the World Economic Forum last year where we suggested we should be focusing just as much on the innovations that build on synergistic connections between technology platforms (see below), because this is where many of the more significant disruptive and game-changing technologies will emerge. It’s partly because of this that I have been so intrigued by the nano quadrotor work coming out of the GRASP lab at the University of Pennsylvania. Technology innovation – building on technology platforms. World Economic Forum: Building a Sustainable Future The nano quadrotors that Vijay Kumar’s team are developing are a prime example of synergistic innovation leading to a game-changing technology.  The quadrotors combine components from multiple technology platforms – sensors, materials, information processing and others – and as a result they present opportunities and risks that depend on the synergism between these platforms.  In other words, the potential disruption comes not from the platforms,

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The immediate lessons from the Deepwater Horizon disaster are pretty obvious – we (or at least somebody) messed up!  But what about the less-obvious lessons – especially those concerning technology innovation and how it’s handled?  The Fall 2010 issue of Findings – the University of Michigan School of Public Health Alumni magazine – contains a short piece addressing just this question.  As is increasingly becoming my habit, here’s an earlier draft of that article.  As well as providing a little more information that the published piece does, it allows an interesting comparison between a good draft (what I think works) and an expertly edited final article (what the editor thinks will work).  As usual, I was more than impressed by how a good editor can sharpen a piece up. In today’s increasingly crowded, interconnected and resource-constrained world, we are more dependent on technology innovation than at any previous time in human history.  By 2050, over nine billion people will be placing unprecedented demands on the earth’s resources – a demand that will only be met through developing and using new technologies. Yet technology innovation comes with its own challenges.  The Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico provides a sobering reminder of what can go wrong when we trust in technology without investing sufficiently in the future.  Devastating as this disaster has been though, it is only one small example of the challenges we will face as a global society as resources become scarcer, demands become greater, and our technological reach threatens to exceed our ability to handle it safely.

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

Andrew can be found on Twitter at @2020science and on YouTube at Risk Bites


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