Assessing expectations: Towards a toolbox for an ethics of emerging technologies
Lucivero F., Swierstra T., Boenink M.
In recent years, several authors have argued that the desirability of novel technologies should be assessed early, when they are still emerging. Such an ethical assessment of emerging technologies is by definition focused on an elusive object. Usually promises, expectations, and visions of the technology are taken as a starting point. As Nordmann and Rip have pointed out in a recent article, however, ethicists should not take for granted the plausibility of such expectations and visions. In this paper, we explore how the quality of expectations on emerging technologies might be assessed when engaging in a reflection on the desirability of emerging technologies. We propose that an assessment of expectations’ plausibility should focus on statements on technological feasibility, societal usability and desirability of the expected technology. Whereas the feasibility statement and, to a lesser extent, the usability statements are frequently quite futuristic, the claims on desirability, by contrast, often display a conservative stance towards the future. Assessing the quality of expectations and visions on behalf of emerging technologies requires, then, a careful and well-directed use of both skepticism and imagination. We conclude with a brief overview of the tools and methods ethicists could use to assess claims made on behalf of emerging technologies and improve the ethical reflection on them.