Emerging Technologies and Society

Emerging technologies and society

Emerging technologies are contrasted with incremental innovation processes and seen as more unpredictable, disruptive, and complex. Examples of emerging technologies include information technology, nanotechnology, synthetic biology, cognitive neuroscience and artificial intelligence. Typical for emerging technologies is that they not only constitute technical, but also social and moral change. In our research we ask the question how to deal with these forms of change at micro-, meso- and macro-level in order to contribute to a responsible embedding of these technologies. If academic research is connected to societal actors before, during and after the research process, the chances of successful valorization of the research results and thus the realization of societal impact increase.

Responsible Research and Innovation

Increasingly, the desire for developing not only better technologies, but also better societies is captured under the term ‘Responsible Research and Innovation’ or RRI. Ultimately, RRI represents the endeavor to align scientific values and purposes with societal values and purposes. Athena studies the further conceptualization and operationalization of RRI in research and innovation practices at all three levels. At the macro level, we analyse processes of institutionalization of RRI in different organisations, including universities, academic medical centres and funding agencies. 

To this end the RRI notion is translated into hands-on concept, which involves the development of quality criteria for RRI and guidelines towards their implementation. We also investigate how a transition towards a more responsible research and innovation system could be facilitated through the training of RRI competences, setting up networks and identifying incentive strategies (policies). At the meso level, we study and facilitate the establishment of learning networks and communities of practice that provide the environment for stakeholders to meet each other, exchange ideas and co-create knowledge. 

These kinds of processes are complicated because of differences in values, interests, habits and practices, requiring an ‘adaptive space’ to make such collaborations successful. We also develop ‘societal roadmaps’ towards more responsible technology through multi-stakeholder dialogue, e.g. in the field of neuroimaging, synthetic biology and nanotechnology. At the micro level, Athena investigates the processes of framing and sense-making that influence how people understand and evaluate emerging technologies in relation to different domains of application. 

For example, we have studied how end-users make sense of the possible future introduction of neuroimaging in the classroom, healthcare and security practice. To guide discussions between people with different value frames, we have developed the frame reflection lab: an ethical reflection tool that playfully engages its participants in becoming aware of one’s own perspective in relation to others.

Valorization and societal impact of knowledge

Academic research contributes to the knowledge reservoir. Whenever this knowledge is transferred to or used by societal actors, a societal impact of knowledge occurs. Societal actors can range from lay public to professionals, from philanthropic institutions to commercial companies and from NGOs to governments. If academic research is connected to societal actors before, during and after the research process, the chances of successful valorization of the research results and thus the realization of societal impact increase. For this reason the Athena institute, and specifically its theme for valorization and societal impact of knowledge, develop knowledge on the process of knowledge valorization, innovative IP strategies, funding and fundability of new venture projects, and the development of knowledge-based industries.

Current projects