COFES 2012: Design Risk and Information Availability

April 19, 2012

One of the sessions I especially liked during COFES 2012 was a keynote by Richard Riff – The Intersection of Design and Risk. The name of the keynote was the same as a theme of COFES 2012. Here is a snippet from COFES 2012 agenda describing this session:

…we’ll explore the role of risk in design, the impact time-horizon plays, and what actions we can (or should) take in response. Richard’s keynote will extend our understanding of the role of risk in the day-to-day decisions of where and how we allocate engineering resources. We all address risk daily, each in our own way. In design, risk is a consideration in each decision we make. But how and when we think of risk needs to change. Not only do we need to pay attention to our risk horizon (which is much closer than our reward horizon), we also must look for opportunities where risk has not yet participated in the decision process, but should.

Below you can see few pictures from the keynote to give you a feeling of the atmosphere in the room.

In my view, Richard keynote was a brilliant from the engineering side. The main points about risk measurement, assessment of what is the cost of risk and considering a "failure is an option" are fundamental with regards to the complexity of engineering problems every large manufacturing company is facing. One of the interesting slides presented was about why are we wired to err..

Another great summary made by Riff was about ‘why the decision goes bad’. The clear point on people’s ego is an important element that made me think about some potential changes that can help us to improve decisions.

I want to connect three dots – risk, cloud and information availability. Few years ago, technology writer Nicholas G. Carr introduced a topic that raised a lot of discussion in press – "Is Google Making Us Stupid?". Navigate to the following wikipedia link to read more about that. Some new researches in this space actually took an opposite view to Carr. Internet is actually making us smarter. Navigate here to read an article about the research. Here is an important passage, in my view:

The Pew Internet and American Life Project and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center asked nearly 895 technology “stakeholders and critics” about their expectations for the Internet 10 years from now. Making ‘better choices’. In the Pew study, 76% of the respondents said they agree that by 2020, “people’s use of the Internet has enhanced human intelligence; as people are allowed unprecedented access to more information, they become smarter and make better choices. Nicholas Carr was wrong: Google does not make us stupid.”

Another interesting observation from the same article was related to how we will use Net to synthesis information:

“We measure intelligence in a certain way now, and maybe the whole nature of intelligence will be changing 10 years from now,” he said. “It won’t necessarily be how much you can retain, how much your hard drive can hold in your head, but it’ll be the way you can assess information, that you can think critically, that you can synthesize information.”

I wanted to connect the question Richard Riff asked in a context of decision-making and risk with the future perspective of a broader information availability. My take on this simple – our way to make a decision 10 years ago and now will require a complete rethink since we will be able to involve the web / cloud and other information services to make a right decision. The decision-making process will be different since the access to information will become ubiquitous.

What is my conclusion? The question of risk and decision-making is one of the most important questions of the design process. It seems to me, we will make a fundamental shift towards a completely new way in decision-making and risk assessment. Information availability will play a key role in this shift. The way to predict it actually very simple – look on how our life became different as a result of the internet and Google. We are still before this big revolution, but it clearly coming. Just my thoughts…

Best, Oleg


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