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Cultivating Emerging and Black Swan Technologies

[+] Author Affiliations
Roop L. Mahajan, Rolf Mueller, Christopher B. Williams, Jeff Reed, Thomas A. Campbell, Naren Ramakrishnan

Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, VA

Paper No. IMECE2012-89339, pp. 549-557; 9 pages
  • ASME 2012 International Mechanical Engineering Congress and Exposition
  • Volume 6: Energy, Parts A and B
  • Houston, Texas, USA, November 9–15, 2012
  • Conference Sponsors: ASME
  • ISBN: 978-0-7918-4522-6
  • Copyright © 2012 by ASME


Emerging technologies, defined as contemporary cutting-edge developments in various fields of technology, are generally associated with the potential for large impact on society. In a recent op-ed, “The coming Tech-led Boom” (Wall Street Journal, January 30, 2012), Mills and Ottino list three grand technological transformations — big data, smart manufacturing, and the wireless revolution — poised to transform this century as much as telephony and electricity did in the 20th century. This list is by no means comprehensive and most likely misses technologies that are not yet recognized, but may still carry an extreme impact — i.e., the so-called Black Swans, as defined by New York Times best-selling author, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, in his book, The Black Swan. Taleb cites the example of three recently implemented technologies that most impact our world today — the Internet, the computer, and the laser — and notes that all three were unplanned, unpredicted, and unappreciated upon their discovery, and remained unappreciated well after initial use.

In this paper, we will examine several emerging technologies, present a methodology to create a breeding ground for potential Black Swans, and finally discuss the societal and ethical aspects of these technologies.

Copyright © 2012 by ASME



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