Future risk: How technology could make or break our world

The rate of technological change over the last hundred years, and the last fifty in particular, has been remarkable and it has driven significant improvements in many areas of our lives. Advancements in technology related to healthcare, for example, has dramatically increased our chances of surviving illness and disease, and enhanced our ability to live following organ failure or the loss of a limb.

Technology has also permeated through our normal daily routines changing the way we cook and eat, the way we travel from A to B and the way we work and interact with one another. What's more, the rate of change appears to be increasing - especially in the world of telecommunications. Never before has so much information been accessible to so many people around the world.

But with new technological developments, come risks as well as opportunities; for example, with the widespread dissemination of the motor-car came traffic accidents, whilst the growth in ownership of personal computers and access to the internet has led to the possibility of cyber crime and internet fraud. Understanding the risks attached to new technology will, therefore, be crucial to ensuring that opportunities are maximised and technological change is embraced rather than feared in the years ahead.

The report begins by presenting a number of specially commissioned essays on future technological risks from leading experts in the field. The authors and their topics include:

- David Willetts MP - The UK's Science and Universities Minister discusses the importance of investing in science and technology and notes some of the key  inks between new technology and the insurance industry.

- Professor James Woudhuysen - Professor of Forecasting and Innovation at De Montfort University, considers the types of innovative industries in which the UK can build a strong comparative advantage.

- Professor Dave Cliff - Director of Large Scale Complex IT Systems, University of Bristol, reflects on the risks of "cascade failure" in large IT systems, some of their implications, and how failure can be avoided.

- Dr Peter Taylor - Research Fellow at Oxford University and risk specialist, Dr Taylor considers the ways in which it is possible to be driven by computational models of the world that are not always reliable and which can lead to poor decision making.

These essays represent compellingly argued visions of the future which can provide the basis for the construction of three illustrative scenarios - all of which could have important implications for the insurance sector and beyond.