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Chapter 3: causes of technological failure

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What are the causes of technological failures? It would be a great comfort if we were able to identify a single cause, for that would greatly simplify the development of a preventive strategy. Instead, we have to resign ourselves to searching for multiple causes of failure and hence multiple strategies for assessment, management, and prevention. In analysing the ever-growing number of technological failures it is, however, possible to identify four general categories of failure that appear again and again as the main causative factors. Of course, these factors are highly interpenetrating, often have unclear boundaries, and exert mutual influence on each other. Nevertheless, the core elements of these four factors are analytically distinct. We do not, however, claim that our four-factor analysis exhausts all possible causes at the root of technological failure. For example, the possible failure of future technologies such as recombinant DNA and nanotechnology might be associated with causes that have yet to be anticipated [1]. We have identified four causes of failure: technical design factors, human factors, organisational systems factors, and socio-cultural factors, each of which will be defined and discussed in this chapter.

Keywords: technological failure, technical design, human factors, organisational systems, socio-cultural

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