Why it’s so hard to talk about social responisbility in technological innovation

Georgina Voss on why it’s so hard to define responsible innovation, especially with regards to defense contracting:

For a fun festive game, you and your loved ones can go through this enormous list from the European Commission of “dual use” technologies, which includes gas masks, plant pathogens, imaging cameras, and lasers; and try to figure out the military and civilian use cases for each one. Technologies, and parts thereof, can slide between these spaces, with the former director of the US Navy’s Future Operations Unit stating to the Christian Science Monitor that “There isn’t any ground-breaking technology that the military hasn’t found some way to eventually weaponise” (and he was speaking in the context of the Navy developing an underwater drone that looks like a shark, so think on that over the holiday season).

Conversely, the origin story of many ostensibly mainstream technologies such as the internet, GPS, and spaceflight, can be found in military research. The latter is particularly important in considering how defence companies bump up against responsible innovation, because defence companies often do far more than create defence technologies: BAE Systems, for example, also develops commercial aircrafts, advanced materials, and energy management systems.

Full Story: The Guardian:

See also:

The Military-Maker Complex: DARPA Infiltrates the Hackerspace Movement

Voss and Justin Picard’s podcast Gin and Innovation.

Distributed Manufacturing Beyond Trinkets

Primary good that can be presnetly produced via Ponoko: a bat box. Sounds simple, admittedly, but it’s well suited to the current production capabilities of Ponoko. Additionally, this qualifies as a “primary good” precisely because, by housing bats in one’s yard, it’s possible to 1) control insect populations, and 2) accumulate valuable fertilizer from the bats for use in localized food production. Bee hives and relate systems are another good example, though the need for wire mesh is slightly beyond the current Ponoko capabilities. Another: cold frames. Worm farm. The list goes on.

Primary good that can be produced via Ponoko with modifications to its capabilities: A hand pump. This would probably require the ability to work with metal, in both sheet and tube form. I recognize that this is well beyond the current capability of Ponoko, but it’s not theoretically that big of a change. Also, if you added the ability to work with sheet metal and pipes/tubing, the universe of potential “primary” goods would open quite quickly (e.g. solar water heaters, stoves, etc.).

Jeff Vail: Distributed Manufacturing Beyond Trinkets

European Innovation Scoreboard

  • Sweden, Finland, Germany, Denmark and the UK are the Innovation leaders, with innovation performance well above that of the EU average and all other countries. Of these countries, Germany is improving its performance fastest while Denmark is stagnating.
  • Austria, Ireland, Luxembourg, Belgium, France and the Netherlands are the Innovation followers, with innovation performance below those of the innovation leaders but above that the EU average. Ireland’s performance has been increasing fastest within this group, followed by Austria.
  • Cyprus, Estonia, Slovenia, Czech Republic, Spain, Portugal, Greece and Italy are the Moderate innovators, with innovation performance below the EU average. The trend in Cyprus’ innovation performance is well above the average for this group, followed by Portugal, while Spain and Italy are not improving their relative position.
  • Malta, Hungary, Slovakia, Poland, Lithuania, Romania, Latvia and Bulgaria are the Catching-up countries with innovation performance well below the EU average. All of these countries have been catching up, with the exception of Lithuania. Bulgaria and Romania have been improving their performance the fastest.
  • Beerken’s Blog: European Innovation Scoreboard

    Video from CyborgCamp

    I haven’t watched this yet – I was losing my voice and on the verge of a cold, so hopefully it’s listenable.

    Here are my presentation notes.

    The rest of the presentations from CyborgCamp are here.

    Left Behind: the Singularity and the Developing World

    Here’s the presentation I gave at CyborgCamp to kick off a discussion on the developing world, low tech cyborgs, and a “post-everything” world. I’ve integrated notes and external links/references into it.

    Thanks to Mamaj and Cameron, Amber Case and the rest of the CyborgCamp organizers, and of course everyone who attended and participated in the session.

    Left Behind: the Singlarity and the Developing Third World


    The technological singularity is a theoretical future point of unprecedented technological progress, caused in part by the ability of machines to improve themselves using artificial intelligence

    The ultimate step is the uploading of our consciousness to computers in space.

    In other words, it’s “the rapture for nerds.”

    singularity cartoon

    (above: A cartoon from Pictures for Sad Children – I don’t share this detrimental view of nerds, but I agree with this bleak assessment of the singularity)

    Compared to many parts of the world, in the west we’re already living in the singularity.

    We can help people in the developing world with technology, and we can learn new things from the problems of the developing world.

    usaid food bags

    (above: Rendille Home – Made of USAID Food Bags)

    The Sudden stardom of the third world city” was an essay by Rana Dasgupta that asked the question

    Is it going too far to suggest that our sudden interest in books and films about the Third-World city stems from the sense that they may provide effective preparation for our future survival in London, New York or Paris?

    Are the problems of the developing world going to be our problems soon? If so, what solutions can we begin to apply here?

    To begin, let’s consider a popular urban legend. There’s a persistent rumor that NASA spent millions of dollars creating a pen that works in zero gravity, but the Russians just used a pencil. The story’s not true, but it’s a good design fable.

    Here’s an example of someone going the NASA route:

    biodetection mine

    Aresa Biodetection tried to create a species of plant that would change colors when planted over a mine. It was a great idea, and it was frequently cited by people at WorldChanging as an example of positive biotech. Unfortunately, it didn’t work.

    mine sniffing rat

    The pencil solution? Instead of trying to create a new species of plant, Bart Weetjens’s using an existing species of animal: rats. The rats are too light to set of mines, and they can be trained to find them.

    Two more examples of simple solutions:


    Life Straw

    hippo roller

    Hippo Roller


    So, some things we can learn. Justin Boland asks why all laptops don’t have hand cranks. I saw in the backchannel that the reason this was taken out of the XO is that they were constantly breaking – but I maintain that an external handcrank would be a useful feature for any laptop (but I think it would be annoying to have that huge crank on the side all the time).

    What can we learn from how people are using mobile phones in the developing world? In many countries, mobile phone use has leapfrogged use of landlines and PCs and Internet.

    Here are some ways mobile phones are being used:

    Digital Currency (cell phone minutes used as alternative currrency – PayPal was originally intended to be a payment system for mobile devices)
    Job hunting by SMS – what to do for people without access to Craig’s List (Kazi 560 from Mobile for Good)
    HIV information by SMS (Project Masiluleke)
    Agricultural market prices

    Election monitoring

    Disaster response

    wind powered cell phone tower

    How can a cellular grid be powered without an electrical grid? Wind and solar powered cell phone towers. Why don’t we take our cell grid off the electrical grid?

    portable wind turbine

    Above: Engineers without Borders prototype $100 portable wind generator

    ocean thermal energy conversion

    A more grand scheme: an Ocean Thermal Energy Conversion project in Hawaii. John Craven claims his system creates electricity, free air conditioning, fresh water, and grows crops insanely fast. They are working to setup a facility in Saipan, but Craven asks what a facility like this could do for Haiti.

    lifetrac open source tractor

    Another interesting project: the LifeTrac (here’s a reasoned criticism of the project, with another interesting example of innovative design for the developing world)

    So what can you do?

    You can build a system like one of the following:




    Or donate time or money to those projects.

    Or, volunteer for FreeGeek, who turn the global problem of e-waste into a solution for bridging the local digital divide by training anyone who is interested to build computers from recycled parts.

    Find out more

    My Heart’s in Accra
    Bruce Sterling

    Social Innovation Camp

    “Social Innovation Camp is an experiment in creating social innovations for the digital age. We think the web and related technologies hold huge potential to change some pretty fundamental stuff: how people hold those in positions of power accountable; who they rely on to provide the services they need to live healthy, happy lives; or how they make a difference to something that affects them.

    But for any of this to happen, we have to work out what people really need and start building the technology that can help – which is what Social Innovation Camp is all about. Through unusual, creative events we bring together talented software developers and designers with social innovators to build effective web-based solutions to real social problems.

    Our Call for Ideas for Social Innovation Camp 5th-7th December 2008 has opened! You have until 7th November 2008 to send us your idea. Social Innovation Camps start with an open Call for Ideas followed by an intense weekend of activity.”

    (Social Innovation Camp’s Blog. SOI “Call For Ideas”)

    Maverick 101

    “For every real-life maverick out there, there are a thousand dreamers, people with great ideas about how to make the world a better place but unsure of whether they should try to make them real. If only there were a handbook to show them the way. Now there is. Would-be world-changer: Meet your very own ‘How-To’ guide.

    How To Know If You’re The One:

    So you have an idea. You’ve tossed it around at parties. Your friends think you’re brilliant. (And, of course, you are.) But do you have what it takes to be a successful maverick? The first thing to ask yourself, says career coach and ‘Have Fun ? Do Good’ blogger Britt Bravo (havefundogood.blogspot.com) is: Are you obsessed? Does your idea keep you up at night? Has it grabbed hold of you and won’t let you go? Your answer has to be a resounding yes. The life of a maverick is filled with overwhelming obstacles and roadblocks. You need extraordinary stamina and passion to keep going when it looks like the odds are against you.

    Next, ask yourself: How much are you willing to give up for your idea? A few years back, journalist Cristi Hegranes struggled to understand the story of a Nepalese woman she was interviewing. In desperation, Hegranes gave the woman her notebook and asked her to write her own story. What came back was an eloquent piece of journalism. The young writer realized that local people could probably tell their own stories as well or better than foreign correspondents. She created the Press Institute for Women in the Developing World (piwdw.org) to create journalism training programs in Nepal and Mexico. Another institute opens in Rwanda this year.

    Hegranes’ work around the clock does not draw a penny from the organization’s budget. Instead, she bartends on weekends to support herself. ‘I know all these people who have wonderful ideas about how to make the world a better place,’ she says, ‘but when push comes to shove they’re not willing to make personal sacrifices to make it happen.’

    (via Common Ground)

    © 2024 Technoccult

    Theme by Anders NorénUp ↑