The Hydra Syndrome

The Hydra Syndrome: Exploring Responsible Technology Innovation in a Complex World was a two day expert meeting / temporary think tank, organized as part of the Innovation in Extreme Scenarios research strand.

Jun 2014
Jun 2014
07:00 to 16:00
location: Risk Science Center at the University of Michigan

The Hydra of Greek Mythology is known for growing back two heads for each one cut off. As a warning metaphor for technology innovation gone awry it’s an extreme but illuminating one. Human inventiveness has a history of today’s good ideas leading to tomorrow’s problems. Often, new waves of innovation help address the challenges presented by previous ones – leading to a model that has over time successfully led to radical improvements in health and well-being in many parts of the world. But is the model sustainable, or are we entering an era where unrestrained technology innovation could create more problems than it solves? Could technological innovation become a metaphorical hydra that grows ever–more destructive with each attempt to tame it?

The Hydra metaphor doesn’t hold up to close scrutiny, but it does highlight a very real challenge with technological innovation: How can technological progress be responsive to human needs, desires and creativity in an increasingly complex, interconnected and technology-savvy world, all the while supporting sustainable progress? Drawing on a wide range of perspectives from across the arts and sciences, this workshop used a number of case studies to explore creative approaches to responsible innovation. As part of a larger project on Innovation in Extreme Scenarios, it was designed to stimulate new ideas and connections amongst the participants, and to provide novel insights into the nature of innovation.


The research project on Innovation in Extreme Scenarios, of which this workshop is a part, was instigated by V2_ in reaction to the introduction of an innovation agenda for the arts as part of the Dutch government's ambition to be “one of the world's top five knowledge economies” by 2020. V2_ has a 30 year history of working at the intersection of art, design, culture, and technology, and in 2012 became part of the "e-culture" grouping which is subject to this innovation agenda and its aims. As a way of directly addressing this policy shift, V2_Lab began undertaking research into the nature and application of innovation through a series of expert meetings, workshops, site visits and interviews over the course of 2013-14. The final outputs of the project, which will comprise project commissions and a final publication, were used as a tool to engage with the policy conversation on innovation in a more profound way. To date, expert meetings and interviews have been held in the Netherlands, Canada, Hungary, and Denmark.


The objectives of this workshop/expert meeting were:

– To engage participants in re-thinking technological innovation through the lens of case studies where well-meaning innovation has led to significant new challenges.

– To provide an intellectually stimulating experience within an interdisciplinary environment where participants gain new insights into the process of technological innovation that are directly relevant to their own research/activities/interests.

– To collaboratively generate a draft report making recommendations on policy that will encourage responsible technological innovation. This report will eventually be presented to representatives from Dutch and/or EU government.

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