07.04.2015 : Vaughan Robertson

Why can’t we boldly go?

Is substantial caution required with new technology or should we boldly go where no-one has been before? There appears to be no black or white answer here.

Some years ago I acquired a Yike Bike - a cool piece of transportation technology probably best described as a mini electric folding penny farthing. It allows me to ride to the local bus station, hop the bus into the CBD and then unfold it and ride to work. It gives me flexibility, mobility and of course it’s great for the environment.

Up until a month or so ago, due to the wattage of the battery, it was designated as a 'motor scooter' by LTA (Local Territorial Authority) regulations, requiring the use of a full motorcycle helmet and a motor scooter licence. It was also required to be ridden on the road rather than footpath or bicycle lanes. Now these provisions are not impossible to comply with, and are designed to catch vehicle types which had not been invented when the regulations were promulgated, but a very short inspection of the Yike Bike would make it patently obvious that it is more like a bike than a motor scooter, in size, power, performance and handling. To the credit of the LTA concerned, after a number of years they have finally given specific approval for its use as a bicycle, with the consequent relaxation of the rules of use to those that pragmatic sense would dictate.

While I am pleased and more than a little relieved to have my mode of usage endorsed, I wonder what would have happened had I been apprehended earlier using my Yike Bike in a bicycle lane with only a bicycle helmet for protection. Certainly I was breaking the law, and potentially with injurious consequences had an accident somehow eventuated. The key point here is that it is extremely difficult for authorities to produce regulation to cover the massive pace of technological change, or indeed to react to new technology in an appropriate or useful timeframe. At the same time, new technology has the capacity for huge disruptive change, with equivalent sized consequences, either good or bad! Reference the emerging debate on 'three parent families' as an example. One would assume that timely and expert advice from professional services consultancies might provide some help.

Like so many of the great conundrums, there appears to be no black or white answer here, but I would contend that a culture of tolerance for new technology, with a proactive and timely review process from regulators, is liable to give the community a distinct long-term advantage over luddite, recalcitrant and obstructive authorities. (Okay – maybe that last is a bit harsh! Let’s say… conservative and cautious authorities!)

What do you think? Is substantial caution required with new technology or should we boldly go where no-one has been before?

About the Author

Vaughan Robertson

Group Manager - Technology Strategy

Vaughan Robertson is Group Manager Technology Services in Beca's Group ICT team. He is responsible for coordinating and developing applications of new technologies, together with monitoring trends in ICT and assessing and communicating their impact on the business.

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What Do You Think?

Sujak · 30/04/2015 1:17:22 AM
Thank you for sharing such a good post. Hope to see more posts.

John Harris · 20/04/2015 11:19:13 AM
Certainly some caution is needed, we need to stay aware of any potential harm that may arise. We need to be able to ask hard questions and have them answered. Asbestos, DDT, and CFCs were once great new technology. Sometimes new technologies and ideas are so well presented/received that it becomes unacceptable to criticise them. What we need is openness and discussion rather than spin.