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The Costs & Benefits of New Technology

Instructor: Amanda Robb
In this lesson, we'll review what constitutes technology and review how cost-benefit analysis can be helpful in determining whether to implement a new technology. We'll go over some examples of new technologies that are used today.

What Is Technology and Cost-Benefit Analysis?

If you think about technology, you probably think of your iPad, Fitbit, or the latest app for your phone. Technology is the development of scientific knowledge for practical purposes such as self-driving cars, artificial intelligence or personalized nano-medicine. In this lesson, we'll be examining four examples of brand new technology in 2016. Although all of these technologies are amazing and have the capacity to improve human life, there are also certain drawbacks or costs to implementing them. Before we get started looking at these exciting new ideas, we have to understand cost-benefit analysis.

Cost-benefit analysis is a strategy that weighs the costs expended to implement a new technology, strategy or protocol versus the benefits gained from doing so. Usually, cost-benefit analysis focuses on the monetary cost of a technology and the potential profit. However, we can also think of cost-benefit analysis as the potential pitfalls of the technology that might ultimately cause harm to our society, or the non-monetary benefits, such as improving the health and well-being of individuals.

General Costs and Benefits of New Technology

Although there are costs and benefits that are specific to each technology we'll discuss, there are some general concerns or hopes for technology that apply to all of our examples.

First of all, for any technology, there is the up front cost of producing the technology. Often, developing new technology can cost millions if not billions of dollars in research. Will it make more money? Will it make production faster? Can it cure diseases with currently limited treatment? Also, how long will the technology last? Design choices like component materials, aesthetics, and availability address these concerns.

Of course, the benefits to new technology are numerous. Otherwise, we wouldn't be investing so much in it! Often times, new technology saves time and makes processes more efficient, decreases costs for businesses or makes dangerous jobs safer, saving lives. Now, we'll look at three examples of new technology.

Mini Medical Robots

Imagine being a parent. Your infant inadvertently swallows a tiny battery, a common problem in the United States. You're terrified knowing this could harm your baby, and possibly require surgery.

Image of a coin stuck in the esophagus of a child
X-ray

However, researchers at MIT are developing ingestible robots to remove unwanted objects from the body. The mini robot is stuffed into a pill and unfolds once the pill capsule is dissolved. Steered by magnetic fields outside of the patient, the robot can do things remotely that normally would not be possible inside the body, like repairing wounds or removing dangerous objects. In the future, technology like this could be used to repair other parts of the body or deliver medicine.

Some of the costs of this technology include the incredible price of development and clinical trials. The clinical trials alone, which are needed before any drug can be used commercially in humans can cost upwards of $40 million. There are also the concerns of what will happen to the robot when its job is done.

Quantum Computers

Imagine a super computer that can process information faster than anything you've experienced today. These incredible computers are capable of encrypting information necessary for national security, solving complex mathematical problems and predicting the outcomes of drug trials that currently take millions of dollars and many years.

These machines are called quantum computers. Normal computers encode information using a string of ones and zeros. Quantum computers take advantage of the weird properties that occur in quantum mechanics, an area of science that studies atomic particles, molecules, and subatomic particles like electrons.

Example of a quantum computer chip
chip

The properties allow for more information to be coded at once. Another important benefit is that quantum computers are better able to model quantum chemistry, needed to understand important chemical reactions in the body and drug development.

However, there are some serious costs to this technology. Although scientists are working with the quantum bits used to make quantum computers, a real quantum computer that can outperform our current models is still years away. Millions of dollars are still needed for research and development of this interesting technology.

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