Thursday, July 07, 2022

Future Failure Guaranteed

"When the ship was invented, so was the shipwreck."  This statement from urbanist and cultural theorist Dr. Paul Virilio, is important for all of us to ponder.  All successful inventions, according to Professor Virilio, include a guaranteed accident/failure.  Invention and accident are inseparable.  

The key to a better future is knowing which inventions and innovations are valuable enough to withstand and persevere through the inevitable accidents.  It is also necessary to consider which accidents are so costly that developing the invention or innovation might not be justified.  The atomic bomb is an example of this debate.  It is an invention that has lead to the wide proliferation of atomic weapons by both friend and foe.  That was not the intent.  It was the accident.

Implementing new policies, laws, processes and regulations also come with a costs in terms of unintended consequences and guaranteed accidents.  For example, repeatedly data has shown that when abortion is outlawed crime increases in the years following.   Freakonomics Radio did an entire episode on this phenomena - listen here.  Increased crime rates were not the intent, but the resulting accident.

If you accept Professor Virilio's statement, then it is important that we unite around some set of agreed upon aspirational goals.  We can use those goals to then judge whether a particular innovation or invention will help us achieve our goals.  For example, will cutting down the rainforests and polluting our planet help us accomplish our goals, or will the guaranteed accident that comes with it be life threatening?  Will arming angry and troubled youth with military style weapons, a social media account and large quantities of disinformation help our society achieve its desired peaceful and safe end-state, or will the guaranteed accidents lead to routine mass shootings?  

Our society's decisions, consciously or unconsciously, guarantee the accidents we face today and tomorrow.  


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Kevin Benedict
Partner | Futurist at TCS
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***Full Disclosure: These are my personal opinions. No company is silly enough to claim them. I work with and have worked with many of the companies mentioned in my articles.