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The mandate to the assessment of new technologies has been evolving for the last four decades according to societal and political contexts. As such, this chapter explains evolving trends towards more participatory and deliberative models of Technology Assessment (hereafter TA) and increasingly broader sets of aspects (beyond efficiency and health impacts) of ethical inquiry. It discusses in which sense TA initiatives have been criticized for a normative deficit, while bioethics councils and applied ethics approaches to the study of new technologies have been accused of a technological and sociological deficit. In addressing the question of how to integrate ethical inquiry in TA and how to account for societal contexts, the literature has focused on the importance of accounting for techno-social co-shaping and stakeholders’ conflicts while exploring the moral dimensions, framing and values inherent in new technologies or actors’ controversies. Within this enterprise, the issues of emergence, uncertainty and dynamic evolution that characterize the technologies under investigation deserve attention. The debate on “speculative ethics” is introduced as a reflection on the possibilities of knowledge concerning technologies that are still emerging and, as such, do not fully exist yet. If emerging technologies do not yet exist and we can only address them as prospective projections, how can we guarantee that an assessment of their desirability is epistemologically robust? The contribution of this book lies in addressing this question.

Original publication





Book title

International Library of Ethics, Law and Technology

Publication Date





3 - 36