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Is Progress in Technology Always Beneficial?

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Message Stephen Unger

Prevailing American policy is, in effect, that any product can be put on the market unless a case can be made that it is harmful beyond reasonable doubt [13]. This exposes both people and the environment to unbounded hazards. The relevant regulatory agencies are grossly underfunded, and have neither the resources nor the authority to do what needs to be done. Nor are there any signs of change in the right direction. If anything, regulation is getting weaker. As our technological abilities grow ever more powerful, the danger of this approach is steadily increasing. What would a wiser policy look like?

What can be done?

Before releasing for general use a product based on some novel technology, a careful study should be made by an independent public agency to look for possible harmful effects, especially possible consequences of long-term use. After a product has been cleared for release, periodic checks should be made to identify unanticipated problems that may become evident only after extensive use. Such discoveries should be dealt with by requiring appropriate modifications of the product. If no practical remedies are found, then use of the product should be terminated.

Such an approach would be very expensive, and would, in general, significantly impede and slow down the exploitation of new technology. It would have to be carried out in a sensible manner, taking into account the importance of various items, weighing risks against benefits. As long as the risks are made clear, and if only the user is endangered, there should be no legal impediments to the sale of such hazardous devices as scuba-diving apparatus, assuming they are properly designed and constructed. In the case of medications that are plausible "last resorts" for those inflicted with deadly diseases, it would not be appropriate to bar usage, even if there is major uncertainty about side effects, as long as the uncertainties are fully revealed to the patients.

A reform along the above lines could not possibly be achieved as long as government remains under the control of a tiny elite, as has been the case for decades.

References

[1] Brenda Wilson, "Traffic Accidents Top Cause Of Fatal Child Injuries", NPR, December 10, 2008

[2] Martin Ford "Job Automation: Is a Future Unemployment Crisis Looming?", The Huffington Post, March 7, 2011

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Stephen Unger Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

I am an engineer. My degrees are in electrical engineering and my work has been in the digital systems area, mainly digital logic, but also computer organization, software and theory. I am a Professor, Emeritus, Computer Science and Electrical (more...)
 

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