Steve Walker

Some less or more well-organised thoughts

A rule of thumb for thinking about the consequences of technological innovation

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In a recent discussion about the efficacy/shortcomings of ‘Haystack’ tool for safeguarding communications in contexts of state interference with the net, on the Liberation Tech mailing list, Jerome Ravetz offered the following, which I think deserves wider circulation at least as a rule of thumb when thinking about the outcomes of technological innovations.

“As my offering, here is a useful principle. Every new device has:

Intended use
Creative new use
Incompetent misuse
Malevolent abuse.

If we always run through that checklist every time we are considering an innovation, we might have some protection. It does represent a big shift, since for a very long time it was assumed that innovation is essentially benign, and ‘unexpected consequences’ could be managed as they occurred. In some IT development it seems to have become recognised; but it’s still a long way from being universal.”

Added: 19/9/10: On reflection, there should be ‘unintended consequences’ for at least three of these categories as well. That is, unintended by either the designer(s) or the (ab)users…. that’s the trouble with rules of thumb, I suppose…


Written by Steve

September 14, 2010 at 9:35 pm

Posted in technology use

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