Safety – new dynamics, new dimensions

By Ingo Plöger, Brazilian entrepreneur, President of CEAL Conselho Empresarial da América Latina – Brazil

Disasters of great proportions always shock public opinion. With tragedy comes revolt and the search for those responsible. At the beginning of 2019, Brazil faced one of the disasters with the most diverse origins. Brumadinho, a retention dam, collapsed and caused hundreds of deaths. Two years earlier, a similar disaster occurred at another dam by the same company. At the end of 2018, in the great city of São Paulo, a 50-year-old bridge yielded several meters. The only reason it didn’t cause many deaths was because it happened at dawn. A building, invaded by a social movement, burned, collapsed and caused dozens of deaths and injuries. An landslide covered a bus in Rio de Janeiro and broke a pedestrian bridge. A training center for young athletes of Rio’s biggest soccer team caught fire in the middle of the night, causing tragic deaths. All this in a fraction of weeks.
Apparently, the causes are completely different and unrelated.
Who is responsible? The public power that does not have control, the organization that is negligent, the auditor who didn’t perform their job correctly, the suspicion of corruption, materials misuse and so forth?
In this context, a discussion about artificial intelligence and ethics appears, in which we will be transferring personal responsibilities to the machine, through decisions to a programmed algorithm. This debate seems hilarious, if even in the simplest issues we are not capable to manage our day-to-day problems, should we discuss the transfer of responsibilities to machines?
However, deep down, it is not.
The security dimensions suddenly become so vital that the review of what seemed to be such a simple citizen’s right; to have an applied technology that gives him comfort with the assurance of being safe, suddenly does not give him this confidence anymore. Everything is unsafe…
The safety dimensions applied no longer serve to ensure the “feeling of safety”. It is possible to notice that the variables applied until then are no longer trustworthy, since the effects seen demonstrate that we are very unsafe. In addition to nature, which presents us with new challenges such as above-average rainfall levels, extreme temperatures, not to mention earthquakes, tsunamis, snow storms, and devastating winds. However, man’s actions and its organizations are even more unpredictable. Adding to both, the imponderable becomes more and more real…
New protocols are required, new indicators, new procedures, new ways of producing and controlling that can give back to the population the feeling that the applied technology is safe enough in public areas. Moreover, it follows that the question of new technologies needs to give society the feeling that safety increases with the power of technology and not the contrary. If, in the case of public affairs, the required safety is based on the number of people involved, in private affairs the demand is for the same kind of safety being either a specific product or a technological application. “fail-safe and safe-life” are well known concepts in engineering.
Furthermore, it is precisely at this point that the public power enters to anticipate, prevent and control so that announced catastrophes do not occur.
In several developed countries, there are national legislations that ensure public or private technological safety by institutions that regulate operator standards. These institutions, however, have already realized that their long-established standards may no longer have the most appropriate protocols to ensure the impacts of the technologies used.
The fact that the European Union creates a platform for debate on ethics and Artificial Intelligence is precisely due to the concern of establishing new patterns in the decision making process (@FuturiumEU). They want to anticipate the level of perceived security in their populations in the use of new technologies. In the USA in the 1970s, an organization called the OTA – Organization for Technology Assessment linked to the American Congress, was responsible of analyzing the primary and secondary impacts of new technologies, so much so that it vetoed the possibilities of building supersonic passenger airliners due to their impact on the ozone layer.
Societies currently require a review of their “safety”. In the field of technology, in the field of predictions, and controls, new dimensions are necessary to recover the “feeling of safety.”
In the English language there is a difference between “safety and security”, while in Spanish, the word seguridad is used for both. Security is more related to national defense, against war, terrorism, criminal acts, while safety is used for technology linked to lifestyle.
As technology evolves, societies will become less tolerant of the predictable uncertainty. This will be the ambiguity of the safety feelings.
Announced tragedies will no longer be sustained by neglection and incompetence. In the midst of this, devastating technological evolution with new materials, process technologies and decision-making processes will open new paths. If we do not know how to take care of the basics, we will stop ahead of time and will stop the very innovation that can protect us from the announced tragedies, using inadequate criteria for solutions.
The path is to associate knowledge, innovation and institutionalize processes so that the “feeling of safety” returns to the public with its governments, its organizations, companies and personal conducts.
A new lesson that we urgently need to learn together


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