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Hastings, Daniel, Jason Black, and Lawrence McCray, ESD.85J Integrating Doctoral Seminar on Emerging Technologies, Fall 2005. (Massachusetts Institute of Technology: MIT OpenCourseWare), (Accessed 09 Jul, 2010). License: Creative Commons BY-NC-SA

Integrating Doctoral Seminar on Emerging Technologies

Integrating Doctoral Seminar on Emerging Technologies

Fall 2005

Diagram of global network of satellites around the earth.
The GPS (Global Positioning System) is one of the emerging technologies considered in this seminar. (Image courtesy of USGS.)

Course Highlights

This course features student papers in the assignments section and student case study presentations in the lecture notes section.

Course Description

This team-taught subject is for doctoral students working on emerging technologies at the interface of technology, policy and societal issues. It integrates concepts of research strategy and design from a variety of disciplines. The class addresses problem identification and formulation of research topics, the role of qualitative and quantitative research methods, and the use of various data collection techniques. Coursework focuses on students' thesis proposals, faculty-student study panels, critical evaluation of research design, and ethical issues in conducting research and gathering data.


In-class Expectations

Vigorous discussion based on the readings is expected.

Homework and Team Project Expectations

For weeks 2-5, a short paper is expected laying out the questions and issues. For weeks 6-11, all students should prepare a short paper on the questions and issues with each case. For weeks 6-11, a multidisciplinary team will be chosen for each week. The team is expected to put together and present a comprehensive presentation/paper on the team project. The paper (to which each student is expected to contribute 15-20 pages) must indicate who has written each part and must reflect on the case study through several lenses. The team project should make use of the menu of cross-cutting themes, below. The paper, suitably reflecting major issues raised during class, is due near the end of the semester.


The grading will be as follows:

In-class Discussion 30%
Short Papers 30%
Team Project 40%


Hughes, Thomas P. Rescuing Prometheus. New York, NY: Vintage, 2000. ISBN: 9780679739388.

Allison, Graham, and Philip Zelikow. Essence of Decision: Explaining the Cuban Missile Crisis. 2nd ed. Boston, MA: Addison-Wesley Longman Inc., 1999. ISBN: 0321033256.

Suggestive Menu of Crosscutting Themes

  • The policy process - which interests are represented, and which ones aren't?
  • How do the key organizations cope with uncertainty about the ET - hedging strategies, preemptive actions?
  • Are there alternative approaches/strategies that would improve upon current methods for dealing with uncertainty?
  • Is new research undertaken to address the acknowledged uncertainties? Why or why not?
  • In retrospect, were some consequences overlooked by interested organizations? Why?
  • In retrospect, were there analyses that could/should have been done that might have improved the decision? Why weren't they done?
  • What strategies are adopted by interests that feel threatened by the ET?
  • Do technical people working on a new ET make better forecasts of an ET's implications than other observers do?
  • Is it true that observers tend to overestimate the short-term impacts of an ET and underestimate the long-term impacts?
  • What methods of risk mitigation/management were implemented? How was the acceptable level of risk determined?
  • How do political/economic/social forces influence the engineering/scientific solutions/approaches?

Structured Case Presentations

The second half of the course is devoted to structured case studies and presentations. These class sessions will be structured as follows:

First Hour

Matched pairs of students will present accounts of emerging technology from the recent and less recent past, addressing 2-4 selected crosscutting themes that emerge from weeks 1-5.

Second Hour

A managed discussion about the case material with personal knowledge about how key actual decisions were made in this case. [Ideally, this is a person who has participated/is participating directly in those decisions.] The objective is to allow each student to interact informally with an experienced decision-maker so that he/she understands the intricacies of the case, the factors that actually influenced choices, and the role and limits of formal analytic methods in informing the choices. An academic domain-expert may also join this discussion.



DH = Prof. Daniel Hastings
LM = Dr. Lawrence McCray
JB = Dr. Jason Black


KD = Kieran Downes
DF = Dietrich Falkenthal
AH = Angela Ho
SH = Shirley Hung
SL = Spencer Lewis
AM = Aleksandra Mozdzanowska
CN = Christine Ng

Phase One
1 Uncertainty

The Engineer's View

On the Power and the Limits of Analysis
DH, LM  
2 On Handling Messy Complexity DH Paper 1 due
3 The Engineering Mindset

Analysis of the Columbia Disaster
DH Paper 2 due
4 Bureaucratic Politics

Some Powerful Dumb Ideas about Politics and Policymaking
LM Paper 3 due
5 Technological Forecasting

Methods for Forecasting; Predictions for the Future; How have they Actually Worked?
JB with Prof. Chris Magee Paper 4 due
Phase Two: Structured Case Presentations
6 GPS for Selected Applications Expert: DH
Presenters: AH, AM, CN
7 Packet Switching for Data Communication Expert: Dave Clark
Presenters: SH, SL
8 The Minicomputer Expert: Frank Field
Presenters: KD, DF
9 Supersonic Transport (SST) Expert: David Mindell
Presenters: KD, SL, AM
10 Seldane to Allegra Expert: Frank Douglas
Presenters: DF, CN
11 The National Airspace System Expert: Dava Newman
Presenters: AH, SH
Phase Three
12 Ubiquitous Computing: Analysis and Review of Collected Material from the Last Year Frank Field Final paper due   Tell A Friend