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Monday, 22 September 2014

A systematic flaw when weighing gain against risk

In a Swedish newspaper article/blog the Swedish journalist Clas Svahn discusses the book ”Katastroferunder 100 år” (Catastrophes during 100 years) written by the Danish researcher and historian Rasmus Dahlberg. Reading the article I react on/against the view or role of both humans and technology.

The effect of “human negligence never seems to be reduced. The more people we become and the more technical solutions introduced the more sources of possible misery, there will be. ...  The common thread here is without a doubt humans and the fact that we are not flawless, but full of arrogance, laziness and influenced by peer pressure and therefore takes decisions that sometimes result in disasters that no one could have predicted”.

I don’t like this perspective. Technology and technical solutions are not introduced to increase safety, they are introduced in order to make things possible (that was not possible before). At the introduction there is an unconscious (and sometimes conscious) process of weighing the gain against the risks. If the gain does not weigh heavier, the solutions will not be introduced (that’s how our laziness works and has made humans successful at spreading over this planet). Look for instance at inventions such as the bungyjump cord, the machinegun or the car. Not safe at all, but enough people has perceived the benefits as more important than the risks and therefore used these things. No one thinks these inventions are harmless and most disasters they can lead to are envisioned and predicted (including an inhabitable Earth).

As I’ve writtenbefore humans are very good at feeling/identifying when something is going wrong. In most of these instances humans react and stop catastrophes in the making. This happens all the time and is most often not documented (and the saved lives not counted). Humans are fantastic!

Also, the amount of people on this world is only possible thanks to our inventions. Technology kills many, but supports many more (at least for now). And looking at how we destroy our planet, it is not human errors leading to catastrophes that are killing the earth. It is a systematic flaw in weighing gain against risk. This because there are two things that don’t work as well as they could, or should:

-          The process of weighing potential gain against the risks (today, many introductions of new technology are too complex for our intuition).

-          Our never ending strive for (economic) growth skew our perspective on gain and therefore (can) let us introduce things that we don’t need.

Friday, 19 September 2014

Almost all attacks lead to substantial consequences!

During 2011 off Somalia (or by Somalia based piracy) about 20 percent (48 out of 237) of the reported attacks led to boarding or hijacking. This was a lower number compared to previous year’s thanks you several different factors, such as:

-          In 2011 most crews and ship operators had understood the seriousness of piracy and enforced effective measures.
-          The naval forces in the area were more effective.
(but also that all attacks (but one) was on a steaming ship)

So far this year about 65 percent of the attacks off West Africa has led to boarding or hijacking and in South East Asia almost all (>90 percent) of the about 100 reported attacks has led to boarding and/or hijacking.
One reason for this shift is that the reporting frequency of incidents off Somalia was high, in other areas the reports of unsuccessful attacks is not as good. But even despite this statistical error there is a substantial increase in the percentage of attacks leading to the worst possible consequences.
Worldwide pirates had a success rate of 50 percent in 2011, 2013 it was above 80 percent!
One could even argue that piracy in areas such as off West Africa and in South East Asia pose a bigger problem than what piracy did off Somalia in 2011. This because a high success rate for pirates lures more into the piracy business and also affects the crew’s negatively. Also, the fact that Somalia based piracy attacked steaming ships made the problem easier to handle, it is much harder to effectively protect berthed or anchored ships.
Therefore, the work off Somalia, often perceived as a success, was a special case that unfortunately can give the wrong impressions on what level of effort is needed to reduce piracy.
So, the work has just began and don’t let the success off Somalia fool us in think that this problem is manageable…