Saturday, July 16, 2016

Unknowable in the risk spectrum

Would you agree that safety risk guru Matthew Squair has it about right that this is a fair representation of the risk spectrum?
Actually, I'm not so sure about the "Is it possible" controlling and mitigating for ontological uncertainty (Squair defines ontological uncertain this way: "Ontological uncertainty lies at the far end of our continuum and represents a state of complete ignorance. Not only do we not know, but we don’t even know what we don’t know.")
  • We can't do probabilistic design for something we're unaware of
  • We don't even have the stastistics to back up the probabilistic reasoning
  • We're not even sure that resilience -- defined as ability to absorb shock without castrophe -- is doable
In my opinion, the only things you can really do for ontological risk are to have reserves and buffers that might be able to absorb shock; independent redundancy (the same risk can't effect all redundant capabilities; loose coupling so that the shock does not propagate; and a 360 awareness for the unknowable.

 In an essay he makes this conclusion:

The idea of risk as a quantifiable property emerged from the great flowering of scientific thought of the 18th century, so it is no surprise that the application of risk to engineering has determinedly followed in these footsteps.

But our understanding of uncertainty has moved on from the clockwork universe view of the 18th century.

Some risks, as it turns out, are not just uncertain, but unknowable before the event and today we are slowly starting to recognise the need for tools to ‘know what we do not know’ about technology risks, and we are also learning that the strategies we use for control should be dictated by the types of risk we face.

Fortunately, the work of economists, psychologists and philosophers over the last hundred years has built up a far broader view of uncertainty and risk.

Is he restating the "Rumsfeld Doctrine of Risk"?

There are known knowns. These are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns. That is to say, there are things that we know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns. There are things we don't know we don't know.
Donald Rumsfeld

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