Knowledge of Risk and Risk of Knowledge

How Uncertainty Supports the Illusion of Freedom


We have at our disposal today the most advanced predictive technologies, and yet we are also exposed to unprecedent uncertainties. Risk no longer consists of a finite number of calculated dangers against which we may deploy precise measures for prevention, in an attitude of control. As new risks constantly emerge unpredictably, forcing us instead into an attitude of resilience whereby plans, means, and ends can be modified at any moment, our practices are liable to lead to unsatisfactory or undesirable results rather than to the expected benefits. The uncertainty we are experiencing today is that of a situation where the risk estimation of a future decision is modified by the very activity of improving the efficacy of predictive hypotheses—an activity whose developments, like the evolution of scientific knowledge, cannot be forecast. This situation of ever-evolving uncertainty demands ever greater efforts in terms of predictive technology even though, rather than reducing the risk that humanity is facing, it seems that our sophisticated learning processes, through which hypotheses are constantly updated, are merely bringing about more awareness of unexpected threats that can hardly be kept under control. Since our world is evolving so unpredictably, can we really think of any alternative world that it is not just one of the innumerable possible evolutions of the same global Schumpeterian competition? How did it come about that efforts to improve scientific knowledge so as to predict those events that are less predictable led to this increasing uncertainty, rather than to the total control of which the critical thinkers of the sixties were so afraid? Is this unpredictable evolution the expression of collective creativity and freedom, or is it a prison wherein we are forced to play the role of creative and free agents whose payoff is dependent upon a willingness to engage with ever new risks and challenges?…