The blight or How to avoid technological disasters

potato_flower.jpg Potato Flower Image © Flickr user barockschloss under CC BY 2.0

Lets look into a darkness to adjust our eyes.

Mid 19th century Ireland. Millions of people were dependant for survival on a single food generation technology. A single pathogen caused the technology to fail. Millions died or fled. At home we called it simply the famine, sometimes the potato famine.

The technology failed and people died, starved, children first then adults, more than a fifth of the population.

Another layer of dark;

The technology of human organisation malfunctioned. The social, cultural, hereditary and political systems, malfunctioned. This caused a huge section of the Irish population to be placed into almost total dependence on a single technology for survival. This single survival technology then failed.

  • rule 1: Every piece of technology will fail at some time.
  • rule 2: Multiple failures often have unexpectedly disastrous consequences
  • rule 3: Multiple failures will always happen given enough time.
    Lessons
  • 1) Assume every piece of technology will fail eventually.
  • 2) Look for points where a failure would cause the worst outcomes and then look at what 2 simultaneous failures could lead to that outcome. Assume it will happen. Change the system to not allow that disaster to happen even with 2 or more failures.
  • 3) Look at the bigger picture, what part of the whole system or culture is failing now. What subsystem has been isolated, what vital outcome totally relies on something working correctly.
  • 4) Incorporate fairness and generosity into all of your systems, technological or human.
back