Governing Transformative Technological Innovation

Governing Transformative Technological Innovation

Who’s in Charge?

Peter W.B. Phillips

New technologies often appear to be beyond the control of any existing governing systems. This is especially true for transformative technologies such as information technologies, biotechnologies and nanotechnologies. Peter Phillips examines in this book the deep governing structures of transformative technology and innovation in an effort to identify which actors can be expected to act when, under what conditions and to what effect. He analyzes the life cycles of an array of examples where converging technologies have created transformations and supervisory challenges.

Chapter 10: Governing Invention

Peter W.B. Phillips

Subjects: innovation and technology, innovation policy, politics and public policy, public policy


Imagination is more important than knowledge. Albert Einstein INTRODUCTION For better or worse, the process of invention and the nature of inventors is for many of us grounded in the Victorian novel Frankenstein, written by Mary Shelley. Her gothic novel portrayed Dr Frankenstein, the inventor, as a driven, reclusive, highly educated but slightly demented scientist. His experimental method – with the goal of seeking to create life, working alone and without peer review and using his hunchbacked manservant to burgle fresh graves for body parts – offends our modern sensibilities about the role of science, proper scientific method and the dominion of mankind. Finally, his invention, the reanimated ‘monster’ is loosed upon the world and humanity, without forethought, risk assessment, post-release monitoring or, in fact, any controls at all. All in all, Shelley’s story triggers our basic fears that inventions are fundamentally risky or uncertain ventures fraught with potential hazards and without proper governance and control. When genetically modified foods entered the global public consciousness, triggered in 1998–9 by the studies by Drs Pusztai and Losey, it didn’t take long for the NGO community to alight on the analogy of Frankenstein and his ‘monster’ and to dub the resulting foods ‘Frankenfoods’. Even the mainline press, including the quality broadsheets and some leading business magazines, enjoyed playing with the analogy, using the term and concept in headlines, articles, cartoons and pictures. The analogy has stuck in the minds of many. In the case of GM foods, instead of Dr Frankenstein, the inventor...

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