Technology Assessment of Socio-Technical Futures—A Discussion Paper

In Andreas Lösch, Armin Grunwald, Martin Meister & Ingo Schulz-Schaeffer (eds.), Socio-Technical Futures Shaping the Present: Empirical Examples and Analytical Challenges. Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden. pp. 285-308 (2019)
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Abstract

Problem: Visions of technology, future scenarios, guiding visions represent imaginations of future states of affairs that play a functional role in processes of technological research, development and innovation—e.g. as a means to create attention, communication, coordination, or for the strategic exertion of influence. Since a couple of years there is a growing attention for such imaginations of futures in politics, the economy, research and the civil society. This trend concerns technology assessment as an observer of these processes and a consultant on the implications of technology and innovation. TA faces increasing demands to assess imaginations of futures that circulate in the present and to participate in shaping these through scenarios or foresights. More than ever, this raises the question, which propositions can be made based on these imaginations by TA and how this can be used in advisory practices. Imaginations of futures are relevant for TA not as predictions but in their significance and effectiveness in the present, which need to be understood and assessed.Contents: This discussion paper outlines how present significance and effects of imagined futures in technological research and innovation processes can be conceived and analyzed. In this paper, all forms of imaginations of technology futures will be called “socio-technical futures” because within them technological developments and social changes are interwoven and inseparably interrelated. In this paper, we discuss why TA should analyze socio-technical futures, how such analyses can grasp the societal conditions that are expressed in the imagined futures and how these become effective in processes of technology development, communication, decision making etc. We raise the question which self-reflexive positioning or possible realignment of TA is needed as a response to its increased concern with assessing and even co-producing socio-technical futures. The latter is often demanded regarding the growing attention by politics and publics to imaginations of futures with wide temporal and spatial reach.Addressee of this paper is the TA community in a broader sense. The aim is to sensitize colleagues for the topic and its challenges, to consolidate discussions and to provide theoretical and methodical suggestions for research in TA and related advisory practices with respect to socio-technical futures. This paper has been originally initiated during the workshop “The present of technological futures-theoretical and methodical challenges for Technology Assessment”, in which all of the paper’s authors participated. The contents of this discussion paper are preliminary results that shall initiate and guide further discussions.

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Petra Schaper Rinkel
University of Graz

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