Responsible innovation, a call for your opinions

RI

Responsible Innovation

Some of my reader(s) might know that I work in the field of Responsible Innovation. This is a growing area within Science and Technology studies, but also plays a part in EU legislation and funding as well as working practices in general.

To be perfectly honest, one of the problems we have in the field is defining and explaining what we work on. I would say in general terms that we are interested in making innovation processes more democratic and transparent, while aiming scientific and technological development towards improvements for society. So possibly make the development of things that might be advantageous for society a priority, even if they might not be so profitable.

If you would like more information before I give you your homework for this week, check out this article in the Spectrum Engineering blog (I wrote it). Take a look at the MATTER website, or the Bassetti Foundation who I collaborate with in my work, or you could even download my $1.17 book from Amazon.

Or none of the above, just use a general sense of what it might look like in your own imagination.

So here we come to the homework part.

Your opinions and Ideas

As part of the European Commission’s Digital Agenda for Europe, Hilary Sutcliffe of the UK based think-tank MATTER (linked above) has launched the New Principles for Responsible Innovation document. Hilary is the plainest speaker of the community, and she wants to know what the general public think about developments. So her document is an open call for comments, with particular interest and questions about the following aspects of RI:

1. Purpose – is it realistic to think that such a voluntary initiative will have a useful role as we have envisaged it?  If yes or no, it would be helpful to know why. (My interpretation of this question, can we improve society through voluntary action within innovation?)

2. Content – Are there gaps or duplications or structures which you think are unhelpful?  Do you have suggestions on how that could be improved? (If so, how could we do it, which structures might be useful, and where are the obstacles?)

3.Effectiveness – How do you think this would be best implemented?  Do you agree with our concept of Radical Transparency being the tool for all stakeholders to access the information of their choice in place of armies of verifiers, or is this just unrealistic? (Could it all be done through transparency, and without rules from above?)

The main aims of the project are to generate positive momentum for transformative innovation for social good and create shared expectations to help build trustworthiness & confidence, and there are several ways in which any interested parties can contribute, with comments from yourselves at number 1.

The document is available here, and I would urge everyone to have their say by replying to Hilary in person through the email link contained within it.

Tell her Jonny sent you.

WAVE

wave_copertina

Wave in Milan

This month Milan is hosting WAVE, an event that promotes the idea of frugal innovation in all of its different facets. I must say before beginning that the Bassetti Foundation (who employ me) are co-sponsors of the event, so I am a little partisan. It is however from any point of view an interesting project and concept.

The event includes an exhibition open to visitors and free of charge from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. in Piazza San Fedele, Milan until 3 July, alongside a series of lectures and other events. The full program is here. There is a huge variety of stuff to see and hear, including debate about sustainability, smart city technology, citizen science and editing the human genome.

The WAVE Project

I take the following form the WAVE website. It gives a nice idea of what the project is all about:

At a time when the entire planet is facing tremendous economic, social and environmental challenges, a multitude of initiatives from around the world prove that solutions exist for doing more with less. The common ingredient in all this creative ferment? Collective ingenuity.
Being flexible, keeping it simple, seizing opportunities, thinking differently: in an unstable world, the ingenious innovator develops a state of mind that’s agile enough to turn obstacles into opportunities.
We live on a small planet where everything is interdependent. This is not a time for divisions, but for concerted action: citizens, associations, NGOs, local authorities, and companies both large and small are implementing new ideas for a better world. Driven by the digital revolution, most of these initiatives rely on social media. Some of them fall within the commercial sphere, others do not. But all of them demonstrate new ways of innovating together, differently.
A wave of collective ingenuity is sweeping across the world. Drawing on a wide range of concrete examples, the WAVE exhibition explores the major currents on every continent: co-creation, the sharing economy, the maker movement, the inclusive economy, and the circular economy. These examples feature people from all walks of life who share a positive vision of the world of tomorrow.

So as we see, WAVE as a concept is traveling the world. It started in France, now Milan before moving on to Senegal, USA and then India. It looks like an interesting series of events to me, and next week I am off to Milan to check it out in person.

 

The Online GM Foods Debate

gm-picGM Experiences

A few weeks ago I was invited to Vienna to participate in a 2 day workshop on Responsible Research and Innovation in the Context of GMO. Obviously, these two topics being my main interests in life, I accepted, and off I went with my extremely stylish new laptop/overnight bag to an equally stylish country hotel.

It was a really interesting weekend. The other participants were scientists, members of regulatory bodies and governmental institutions, professors and other professionals from across Europe. I should say that this weekend was part of a much larger project called RES-AGORA, which is funded by the European Commission. You can read all about it here.

If that tickles your fancy here is the 60 page long Stakeholders Report.

But anyway back to the experience of a Luddite blogger in a posh hotel. I learned a lot about genetic modification, legislation, the problems of getting seeds to test, companies not making life easy for those testing or reporting, property rights and their effects over publication possibilities, loopholes in laws in different countries that allow people to legally buy seeds without a contract with the manufacturers (oh don’t get me started), and it got me thinking about writing an article.

So I did, and got it published here, in an Italian online academic journal.

Writing Skills

Now why is this of interest to you I hear you ask. Well I wrote this article basing much of it on the food series that I wrote here  on Technology Bloggers last year. In writing the series I unearthed a real underbelly of food production, and a little organization and rewriting, updating, selecting and expanding, and I had an academic article. You can download it for free here if you like.

The article raises the issue of how the GM debate is played out online. The problem it seems (to me) is that there is no forum for constructive debate about GM, and this leads to a polarization of positions. So we can imagine a scenario in which website “A” points out as many problems as the author can think of, ethical issues, exploitation, altering nature, global takeover of seed production, and other nasties. In the same scenario website “B” is glossy and tells us that only GM will be able to produce enough food to feed an ever growing population, that it is all safe, that they are spending money on research just to help us out….

The problem is that in all scenarios website C is the same as website A, and D is the same as B and so on. There is little room for debate about GM in organic fuel production, or any other possible uses. It is the goodies against the baddies, and the baddies have more money, friends and power. The goodies however don’t seem to have a broad enough base to attack from.

Now the article looks nothing like the blog series I grant you, nor does this 2 paragraph description above, and I have to say that a lot of work went into the article. But having done all of the research for the series gave me a really good grounding. Now I am sure that many readers have written blogs that follow long and intricate lines of argument, but I wonder how many have thought about writing an article for a journal, newspaper or magazine and submitting it? It certainly broadens your writing capabilities, and if you feel you have something important to say it gives access to different readerships.

And it looks good in the portfolio and on the CV!

Dinosaur Developments

boston museum

Dinosaurs

Like many Bostonians a great deal of my time in that fair city was spent in the Museum of Science. It is a fine museum, well suited to children. They have some incredible lightening making machines, a bed of nails that you can try out yourself, and lots of dinosaurs.

And outside the front door they have a model of a T Rex, you can see it in the photo. This model T Rex was built and placed in 1972, and here lies a story. We might feel that this great beast has been part of our culture for many years, it was first described in 1905, but the first almost full skeleton was only found in 1990 in South Dakota.

Now if you look at the model you see an upstanding T Rex, but the model is not a good replica. These dinosaurs did not stand erect like that, they were much more laid back in their posture due to their size and a considerable tail.

Here below we see the reconstruction of Sue, the first almost complete skeleton brought to life in 1990 and mentioned above. Now Sue is well balanced, looks even more ferocious, and somewhat resembles a flightless bird. Just think how quickly science is developing!

Meet Sue

Meet Sue

Birds and chickens

So here I get to the meat on the bones. Birds seem to have evolved from dinosaurs, some dinosaurs even had feathers, and recently scientists have managed to create a chicken embryo with a dinosaur-like snout and palate, similar to that of small feathered dinosaurs like Velociraptor. The results are published in the journal Evolution. You can read the abstract here.

They did not hatch the embryo, but manipulated genes that deal with facial development in birds, until the beak started to look more like a dinosour or aligator mouth. See the photo below taken from the BBC article on this story.

From Beak to Snout

From Beak to Snout

This is an interesting line of research. I am not worried about a Jurassic Park scenario, but it does seem to open a world of opportunities , and I am not sure that all of them have been explored. I wonder how far it could go?