The Proactionary Principle as a Corporate Attitude Towards Technology

Proactionary Principle
Proactionary Principle

Through h+ magazine I encountered the Proactionary Principle. This principle emerged as an alternative to the Precautionary Principle during the Vital Progress Summit in 2004 and is written up by the extropian thinker Max More. Let’s start with the precautionary principle:

The precautionary principle has been used as a means of deciding whether to allow an activity [..] that might have undesirable side-effects on human health or the environment. In practice, that principle is strongly biased against technological progress so vital to the continued survival and well-being of humanity. […] The precautionary principle [..] inherently biases decision making institutions toward the status quo, and reflects a reactive, excessively pessimistic view of technological progress.

The proactionary principle tries to overcome this problem, by nine component principles (liberally reworded from the original article):

Freedom to innovate – our freedom to innovate technologically is so valuable that the burden of proof should be with the nay-sayers.
Objectivity – use a decision process that is objective and make decisions based on science and not on emotions.
Comprehensiveness – consider all reasonable alternative actions.
Openness/Transparency – be open to input from all possible affected parties and keep the decision process transparent.
Simplicity – don’t complicate things unnecessarily.
Triage – give precedence to known risks over hypothetical risks.
Symmetrical treatment – treat technological risks in the same way as natural risks and make sure to fully account for the benefits of technological advances.
Proportionality – only consider restrictive measures if the bad impact of the technological impact is probable and severe, also take into account the benefits of the technology and make sure that all restrictive measures are proportional to the extent of the probable effects.
Prioritize – give priority to risk to human and other intelligent life over risks to other species.

These principles were written with large social and environmental issues in mind. I think some of the philosophy inside these principles can be very useful in a different context: the acceptance and implementation of new technology inside large corporations. Very often these corporations have a very conservative look towards using technology in the workplace. In my field of work, learning technology, this shows itself through an over-focus on integration, excessive rationalizing towards a single platform and only trying out new technology after a long process in which governance has to be negotiated between HR, IT and legal.

Corporations and institutions focus on the problems and risks of new technology without taking full account of the benefits of using it and the opportunity cost of not using it. So here is my resolution: whenever next I am trying to defend the use of some innovative technology I will call on the proactionary principle to try and win the argument.

Let a thousand flowers bloom! By all means, inspect the flowers for signs of infestation and weed as necessary. But don’t cut off the hands of those who spread the seeds of the future.