The strong link between science and technology, considered a characteristic of modern society, is generally thought to be a dominant force driving economic prosperity and social affluence. For several decades, new forms of integration of science into technological development and industry have led to new forms of the production of knowledge. Knowledge itself creates a new dynamics of technological and social change. In order to confront the challenges associated with this change, new political processes and instruments have been introduced that structure publicly funded science in a manner that leads it to more strongly address issues of social interest or relevance. These are reflected not least of all in the mission of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centers and the targets of research policy set by the funding bodies.
The topic "Assessing Technologies" is in the tradition of such problem-oriented research. It is devoted in particular to the reflective assessment of technology in which (key) technologies and the processes of innovation and implementation are analyzed and evaluated. This in turn requires an understanding of the interaction between technological and social change, on the one hand, and the dynamics inherent in them, on the other. Research in this topic is directed at focal social issues:
- Are all the feasible technological developments also socially desirable?
- Can we align the core elements of our social infrastructure to social processes of change? And how can their functioning be improved in the context of these new circumstances?
- How can we satisfy the growing need for social participation in processes of technological development?
This research is oriented on different but interwoven perspectives. The first studies new and emerging technologies of significant transformative potential, such as synthetic biology or brain research. Among the various issues in the context of these technologies, this perspective also opens the scientific study of fundamental questions regarding the limits of what is technologically feasible in the relationship between humans and machines.
The second perspective assesses the types of substitutive technology in the context of their use, such as the energy system or the mobility system, in order to improve their performance and ensure it long term. Both approaches pursue the goal of compiling the knowledge that will permit those involved in innovation to take part in structuring technology-based change with reference to meeting social goals. In order to be able to better understand these change processes, the structures of thinking and communicating that are the basis of these processes of innovation are analyzed in a third perspective on research. One aspect of this is reflection on the different forms of generating knowledge, which opens important insights to research in participation. Another is to put a strong accent on the relation of processes of innovation to the future in order to ensure governance appropriate to the recipient during policy consultation or accompanying the development of technology.