Transforming Strategies

Effective trading zones around convergent technologies cannot be created simply by bringing various groups together, although that is a first step. Here, federal agencies and foundations can form a trading zone around resources (see Fig. F.5) — like the role of the National Science Foundation in the National Nanotechnology Initiative. This kind of program must not micromanage the sort of research that must be done; instead, it has to provide incentives for real engagement among different cultures of expertise.

Technologies designed to improve human health, increase cognitive performance, and improve security will have to fit into global social systems. We need to create active technological and scientific trading zones built around social problems. These trading zones will require experts with depth in relevant domains. The trading zones will need to provide incentives for them to come together, including opportunities to obtain funding and to work on "sweet" technological problems (Pacey 1989). In addition, each zone will require a core group of practitioners from different disciplines to share a mental model of what ought to be accomplished.

Figure F.5. Technologies converging on a trading zone seeded by resources that encourage collaboration.

Here, it is worth recalling that mental models are flexible and adaptable (Gorman 1992; Gorman 1998). One good heuristic for creating a flexible shared mental model came up repeatedly during the conference: "follow the analogy of nature." Alexander Graham Bell employed this heuristic in inventing the telephone (Gorman 1997). Similarly, McDonough's "waste equals food" mental model is based on the analogy to living systems, in which all organic waste is used as food by forms of life.

Similarly, as we look at beneficial ways in which human performance can be enhanced, it makes sense to study the processes and results of millions of years of evolution, which have affected not only biological systems, but also the climate cycles of the entire planet (Allenby 2001). The pace of technological evolution is now so fast that it exceeds the human capacity to reason about the consequences. Hence, we have to anticipate the consequences — to attempt to guide new discoveries and inventions in a beneficial direction. Nature's great inventions and failures can be a powerful source of lessons and goals. As Alan Kay said, "The best way to predict the future is to create it."

We see NASA adopting this analogy to nature when it proposes aircraft that function like high-technology birds, with shifting wing-shapes. The human ear served as Alexander Graham Bell's mental model for a telephone; in the same way, a bird might serve as a mental model for this new kind of aircraft. Creating this kind of air transport system will require an active trading zone among all of the NBIC areas, built around a shared mental model of what needs to be accomplished.

Good intellectual trading zones depend on mutual respect. Hard scientists and engineers will have to learn to respect the expertise of ethicists and social scientists, and vice-versa. The ethicist, for example, cannot dictate moral behavior to the scientists and engineers. Instead, she or he has to be ready to trade expertise, learning about the science and engineering while those practitioners get a better understanding of ethical issues.

Consider, for example, a trading zone between the medical system and its users around bioinformatics. Patients will be willing to trade personal information in exchange for more reliable diagnoses. But the patients will also have to feel they are being treated with respect — like human beings, not data points — or else the trading zone will break down.

In terms of education, what this means is that we want to encourage students to go deeply into problems, not necessarily into disciplines. Elementary students do not see the world divided into academic categories; instead, they see interesting questions. As they pursue these questions, they should be encouraged to engage deeply. But the result will be new kinds of expertise, not necessarily easily labeled as "physics," "chemistry," or "biology." The best trading zones are built around exciting problems by practitioners eager to create the knowledge necessary for solutions. And every such trading zone ought to include practitioners concerned about the social dimensions of technology.

Communications is the key to a successful trading zone. Students need to be given opportunities to work together in multidisciplinary teams, sharing, arguing, and solving difficult, open-ended problems together. Teachers need to scaffold communications in such teams, helping students learn how to present, write, and argue constructively. We have a long tradition of doing this in our Division of Technology, Culture, and Communication in the Engineering School at the University of Virginia (http://www.tcc.virginia. edu).

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