My name is David Thurlow, and I research and write about technology adoption and policy. As I see the world around us changing with new innovations and social developments, I try to understand those changes and where they might lead. Most importantly, I ask what choices we have today that could help us shape the future for ourselves and coming generations.
My most recent research involves the scalability and potential impacts of autonomous vehicle systems, or “self-driving cars”.
What brought you to technology policy?
I worked in the film industry for many years on large movie and TV productions both in the US and internationally. I also have a background in aviation with licenses to fly both airplanes and helicopters. These interests came together for me in learning to build and fly small drones for aerial cinematography, and when I did I became part of a new industry that was struggling to prove itself amid outdated regulations and a skeptical public.
Commercial drone startups hoping to offer beneficial services (such as aerial photography, inspections, search and rescue, or agricultural data collection) faced an uphill battle. Realizing this, I created the first commercial drone trade association, the Association of Commercial Unmanned Aircraft Systems (ACUAS), to advocate for policy updates and safe regulations for practical and positive uses of drones.
Why technology and society?
My experience with ACUAS made me even more interested in exploring problems and potential solutions with new technologies in our lives. It became clear to me that this is a unique and incredible time we are living in. With all the technological changes I was seeing on their way, I knew this was what I wanted to focus on. So, to learn more and shift my career fully in this direction, I chose to get a master’s degree in Science and Technology Studies (STS).
I am particularly drawn to researching how technologies affect human behaviors and interactions. I have studied the use of design to influence adoption and retention, strategies for marketing “anti-social” technologies such as virtual reality and games, and historical and modern examples of people who resist or abandon new technologies. I’ve also studied how companies and governments make decisions and set policies regarding the potential consequences of adopting new technologies.
Why transportation and urban environments?
I grew up in the small town of Bozeman, Montana, but later also lived and worked in the sprawling metropolis of Los Angeles, the dense urban spaces of New York and Toronto, and the modern yet historic cities of Munich, Lyon, and Montréal. I also had the pleasure of spending three years in a serene wooded countryside location in the American Northeast.
My time in these differing environments helped me to understand how vital the design of cities and towns is to our life experiences. Public spaces and architecture play a key role in how we feel and interact with others, and it’s clear to me this is an important part of how our modern lives are changing.
The design of our cities and towns, however, is often at the mercy of something else: our transportation choices. Our transportation systems not only affect how we spend much of our time, but also dictate how the space within our cities and towns will be used. If we want to take control of shaping the places we live, we need to start with our choices about transportation.
Why do you care about this?
I see a lot of disturbing trends in the world right now, from environmental damages to economic instability to political incompetences. At the same time I see people turning to technology to solve those problems, hoping for easy solutions to mistakes we’ve made and systems that aren’t working for us. I believe we do have the power to build a better future for ourselves, but I don’t believe new technology will take us there without any planning on our part. Many of today’s problems are the result of yesterday’s technologies. That’s why I want to help people make smart decisions about how we use our technological abilities – to build a future that aligns with our communities, our cultures, and our human values.