[tip 'o the hat to Dave Farber's IP list] Google Video has a fascinating film on the origins of the Internet that should not be missed if you are all interested in the history of the Net. The film by Steven King includes interviews with Bob Kahn, JCR Licklider, BBNer Frank Heart, and several other Internet pioneers.
How should we think about world-changing technologies? This is the question posed and answered by Jamais Cascio in an article on WorldChanging.com. Generally speaking previous answers to this question tend to fall into two camps or philosophies. The first advocates the Precautionary Principle, namely, that "we should err on the side of caution when it comes to developments with
uncertain or potentially negative repercussions, even when those
developments have demonstrable benefits, too." The second advocates the Proactionary Principle, specifically, that "we should
err on the side of action in those same circumstances, unless the
potential for harm can be clearly demonstrated and is clearly worse
than the benefits of the action."
Cascio's article defines and justifies the Reversibility Principle:
When considering the development or deployment of beneficial
technologies with uncertain, but potentially significant, negative
results, any decision should be made with a strong bias towards the
ability to step back and reverse the decision should harmful outcomes
become more likely. The determination of possible harmful results must
be grounded in science but recognize the potential for people to use
the technology in unintended ways, must include a consideration of
benefits lost by choosing not to move forward with the technology, and
must address the possibility of serious problems coming from the
interaction of the new technology with existing systems and conditions.
This consideration of reversibility should not cease upon the initial
decision to go forward to hold back, but should be revisited as
additional relevant information emerges.
All well and good. But some argue that some advanced technologies once deployed cannot be put back in the bottle, so to speak.
Are there any historical examples of technologies that were deployed and then recalled? Certain pharmaceuticals have been recalled once pernicious effects were demonstrated. Thalidomide was banned after it was shown that it cause grievous birth defects.
But the pharmaceutical industry, seeking to salvage something, is now working to show that it can be safely prescribed to non-pregnant women and to men to treat various conditions. According to the Wiki,
The FDA approved thalidomide in 1998, under a restricted access system, for the treatment of erythema nodosum leprosum associated with leprosy (Hansen's disease). It also was found to be effective for multiple myeloma, and is now standard first line therapy for this disease in combination with dexamethasone.
So is this an example of revsersability? Probably not.
Take the Strategy Kinetics Challenge: Post a comment suggesting a historical example of the reversability principle. What do you get? Just thanks and 15 seconds of fame.