Column: Risk Management

Opinion | The Risks of New Technologies Are Ignored for the Sake of ‘Progress’

By: | September 14, 2018

Joanna Makomaski is a specialist in innovative enterprise risk management methods and implementation techniques. She can be reached at [email protected]

Imagine a world where, in one year, a war claimed 16 million lives and another 500 million were infected by a flu pandemic, killing 50 million.

Imagine a time where only six percent of Americans graduated from high school. Imagine eight percent of homes having a telephone and a three-minute call from Denver to New York costing $11.

Imagine a trip from London to New York taking five days, and one from Australia to London taking three and a half months.

Imagine no more. That was 1918.  A mere 100 years ago. How things have changed and at breakneck speed.

Ethical Transformation 

Consider that in 1956, 5 MB of RAM cost $120,000 and you needed a truck to move it. Today, one TB of memory is only $99 and can easily be lost in your pocket. That is a 10-trillion-fold price performance improvement.

Lifespans have doubled. Food is 20 times cheaper. Energy is 50 times cheaper. Global income has tripled. Connection to the internet is 1-million-fold faster and cheaper.

Such technological transformation is a good thing.

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And transformation is set on an even faster track going forward. Currently half the planet is connected to the internet. In five years, it is expected the whole planet will be connected, with unparalleled internet connection speeds.

This means that four billion more minds will have access to vast amounts of information, enabling everyone on the planet to solve problems like we’ve never seen before. It’s dizzying just thinking about it.

But maybe it’s the risk manager in me. The fun sponge. I trust technology. But sadly, I do not trust all humans.

Eight billion minds transforming our planet, all with good intentions … right?

Consider CRISPR, a powerful new gene-editing technology. This tool can manipulate genes and delete undesirable traits with high precision. It has the potential to eliminate diseases, enhance the nutrition and endurance of food and to help us fully understand the human genome and what each gene does.

This is revolutionary, but somehow I feel we may need to pause and take a breath. Do a little risk assessment.

I once saw an MIT experiment where a kitten was born glowing in the dark. I’ve also read of the successful cloning of primates in China. I have been shown a future where gene editing could produce “designer babies” with superhuman skills and abilities.

Here is where I struggle. Just because we can do these things, should we? I shudder at the thought of the unintended risks and consequences that could transpire from such gene editing in nature. This technological transformation train zooms ahead with no governing ground rules and no ethical frameworks to constrain and guide us as a society.

Let’s take a collective breath. &

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The R&I Editorial Team can be reached at [email protected]