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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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4. Dealing with Technological Uncertainty

We have seen that the two traditional methods for dealing with technological uncertainties both have severe limitations. Risk analysis, in its traditional form, is based on quantitative measures of risk in the form of expectation values. In order to obtain these measures, probability values that are required are often unavailable even for technologies in use, and always unavailable for future technologies that differ in their basic structures from the technologies already in place. Technology assessment, as originally conceived, should foresee the development of new technologies and their social consequences. It has not delivered such predictions, although it has contributed to public discourse on technology in many other useful ways.

We therefore need to develop new frameworks that can provide policy guidance in the difficult issues that technological development gives rise to. In what follows, three possible beginnings for such developments will be mentioned. The first of them may be a surprise since it is much older than technology assessment or risk analysis. It may nevertheless have some of the answers for which we are searching.

4.1 Safety engineering

Since the nineteenth century, engineers have specialized in workers’ safety and other safety-related tasks. But, although safety engineering is taught at technological colleges and universities, it has a much lower profile than risk analysis. One of the reasons may be that whereas risk ...

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