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Wednesday, December 14, 2011

NBTMV - On the need to assess impact of technology before adopting it

It’s important to assess the impact of technology before using it either in a product or for your or your organization’s use (for that matter, for the nation’s use as well).
Let’s start with an example. Suppose you are a cell phone manufacturer and you decide to capture all user actions so that you can “debug” -- fix problems -- when something goes wrong and also improve performance when you see some parts of the system not performing to expectation. Capturing user actions is a perfectly valid approach to this need, but, if you did not inform the users upfront, they’d probably be concerned about privacy and security of the collected information.
As another example, suppose we promote production of ethanol from corn as a fuel and as a way to reduce dependence on fossil fuel. However, corn is also used as food and as cattle feed. What if there is impact on food prices and cattle feed because corn is diverted from these uses to ethanol production.
One way to avoid such problems is to conduct a technology impact analysis (or technology impact assessment) up front. The framework is fairly straightforward. You consider the technology for some intended use. Now, before you adopt the technology, think of all the unintended consequences, which are usually not good. These are foreseen, but uncertain, and, therefore, “risks.” If you think of them up front, you can then take action to either mitigate these risks or decide to accept them.
In the case of the cell phone example, if this was done, the cell phone manufacturer could have foreseen the privacy and security risks and acted beforehand by informing the users about the intended use of the information being captured and letting them opt in, if they so desired.
In summary, it’s important to assess the impact of technology before deciding to incorporate it in a product or adopting it for your or your organization’s use. Proactively doing an impact assessment could save you lots of headaches and, not to mention, potential negative consequences later on.
Here's some more information to help you...
The following book covers similar ideas and may be interesting to check out:

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