Some Free Reading Materials about Responsible Innovation

Last week I opened a discussion about responsibility in technological innovation, and this week I would like to have a look at some (free to access) literature on the subject from a few different perspectives.

SELF DRIVING CARS

There are a couple of really interesting documents to begin with. The journal Glocalism has an article written by Jack Stilgoe about his experiences of test driving a Tesla and his thoughts on the world that self driving technology might bring. Stilgoe is well known in this field, a university Professor who also writes for the Guardian newspaper he can communicate across the spectrum.

The abstract reads as follows: “In the last five years, investment and innovation in self-driving cars has accelerated dramatically. Automotive autonomy, once seen as impossible, is now sold as inevitable. Much of the governance discussion has centred on risk: will the cars be safer than their human-controlled counterparts? As with conventional cars, harder long-term questions relate to the future worlds that self-driving technologies might enable or even demand. The vision of an autonomous vehicle – able to navigate the world’s complexity using only its sensors and processors – on offer from companies like Tesla is intentionally misleading. So-called “autonomous” vehicles will depend upon webs of social and technical connectivity. For their purported benefits to be realized, infrastructures that were designed around humans will need to be upgraded in order to become machine-readable. It is vital to anticipate the politics of self-driving worlds in order to avoid exacerbating the inequalities that have emerged around conventional cars. Rather than being dazzled by the Tesla view, policymakers should start seeing like a city, from multiple perspectives. Good governance for self-driving cars means democratizing experimentation and creating genuine collaboration between companies and local governments.”

You can read his piece online or download it for free here.

Another document that you might want to download for free is the Responsibility Driven Design for the Future Self-driving Society booklet from Fabio Besti and Francesco Samore.

This is a full colour picture book that addresses the role that design plays in the development of the technology and the way this development will change the world. This is a free 75 page downloadable booklet divided into various sections that includes a section on workshops held as part of a university course and that raises a lot of questions about what the future of autonomous mobility will look like, the claims made by those who promote the idea, and examples of projects already underway. I myself wrote the conclusion.

FOOD

I also have another free to access co-authored article in the journal Glocalism about food procurement that is in many ways related to the photo I used on last week’s post. The question raised in this article is about sustainability and choices made over what food we buy. Is it more responsible to try to buy local produce than imported foods? This is also free to download here.

ENGINEERING

IEEE Spectrum is the blog attached to one the largest engineering journals in the world, and you can find an overview blog post on responsible innovation here.

This post again raises the issue of engineering responsibility and by extension engineers’ responsibility in the innovation process.

CRITIQUE

As we might imagine all of the above is not entirely unproblematic, as this post on the University of Nottingham blog demonstrates. This is quite an old article as it comes from 2014 and time moves quickly in such a rapidly developing field, but it raises lots of interesting and fundamental questions that we are still battling with today.

Next week I will introduce the European Union perspective and take a look at some of their documents, reports and projects.

Responsible Innovation in Technology

I would like to open this new season of posts with a series on recent developments in technology development from the perspective of responsible innovation. The idea of responsible innovation (RI) has been around for about 20 years and is easy to understand: Innovation processes can be steered towards certain goals, and the technological products that come to market also.

A Bosch employee controls a deep field robot called “BoniRob” at a field in Renningen near Stuttgart, Germany July 29, 2016. REUTERS/Michaela Rehle – RTSL1NO

Examples are easy to find in our everyday lives. We all have a computer that we cannot upgrade because we can’t get into it. Talk of built in life spans, telephones without changeable batteries, systems that are no longer upgraded leading us to have to spend money and dispose of working machines that are full of hazardous materials.

On the other hand the development of open source software and large scale collaboration by experts in related fields seems to demonstrate a different approach. Sharing of data has helped in developing treatment for Eboli, human genome sequencing and across a host of other fields.

If we take a look at these examples it seems that their development processes were slightly different to those we are used to, and this is where the central idea of responsible innovation comes in. The aim was to arrive at a product or conclusion that would help to resolve a pressing problem, and not only to make a profit.

So the underlying idea is that innovation processes should work towards solving what the European Union call the Grand Societal Challenges. There are many of these, but looking after an ageing population, food security, climate action and smart transport technologies are just a few.

In order to promote this approach the European Union have placed the concept within all of their calls for funding until 2021. This means that anyone applying for funds to conduct research has to address the issue and to run their project within these aims. To give you an idea the last 7 years funding budget was of 80 billion Euros, so there is the possibility of pushing real change via this approach.

Part of the idea involves the open publication of data, and any project that is funded receives money to pay for articles to be placed in paid publications on open access or to be freely distributed. Information is power after all, the power to make a profit, with technology companies across the world fighting to be the first to announce their new developments and carefully safeguarding their data and processes. And this is one of the great sticking points, because this approach is inefficient both in terms of development and positive return for society.

Technology develops faster if everyone working in a particular field shares their data. But in a world based on profit how can this sharing come about without leading to loss of possible profit? There are plenty of examples here too though, ASUS collaborate with gaming company Tencent in order to produce a telephone designed with particular specification that will enable its user to make the most of their games.

So why not in other important fields? Data sharing seems to present a wealth of opportunities and advantages.

Next week I will offer an overview of some of the recent publications within this field.

The Future of Solar Energy

Sol-Term

Travelling Through Morocco

20 years ago my father retired from work, and to celebrate he gave me and my brothers £1000 each. I went to university and sat next to my buddy Sam, and asked her if she fancied going to spend the money on a holiday. I skateboarded to my favourite travel agents and booked flights to Morocco.

6 weeks, a long road trip. We divided the remaining money into daily allowance, $20 US per day. Not really enough. Well enough to eat, or travel, but not eat and travel. So on days that we travelled we only ate once, and on other days we ate twice. Not a lot though.

Anyway we wanted to go and see the sahara. We went from Casablanca via Radat and Meknes, down through Azru and all the way to Merzuga. It’s quite a thing to see. Then to Ouarzazate.

Now the Marocco of 20 years ago is not the country of today. And we were poor. We did not have enough money to take the national bus lines, we took the local buses, no windows, animals on the roof tied into canvas bags, goats inside. Today Ouarzazate is a world leader in solar energy.

Desert Solar Energy

Morocco wants to become a world leader in solar energy production. The development that is underway and newly online will eventually provide 20% of the country’s energy needs. It will be the largest concentrated solar power (CSP) plant in the world. The mirror technology it uses is different from the photovoltaic panels that we see on roofs the world over, but it will have the advantage of being able to continue producing power even after the sun goes down.

The system uses mirrors to heat an oil, known as heat transfer solution (HTF). Each parabolic mirror is 12 metres high and focussed on a steel pipeline carrying HTF that is warmed to 393C. It then goes into a heat transfer plant, is mixed with water that turns into steam and drives turbines.

In order to operate after dark excess heat is used to turn sand molten, the heat being released overnight allowing the plant to function for a few hours longer, and the plan is that in a couple of years time it will be able to operate 24 hours a day.

Distribution

If Morocco becomes self sufficient through solar wind and hydro, they will look towards exporting. There have been several projects involving laying power lines from North Africa into europe (Libia to italy comes to mind) but as far as I know nothing is currently operational.

For more details check out this article in the Guardian.