Technology Assessments and Social Experiments

New technologies often have unforeseen effects on society. Some are beneficial but others are harmful in ways that are difficult to foresee. In this chapter, we consider two proposals for how to monitor and assess new technologies. The first is to formally assess technology prior to its introduction to society as practiced in the United States between 1972 and 1995. This assessment may include discussions of the ethical issues raised by the technology. The second proposal is to treat new technologies as ongoing social experiments that require continuous monitoring and assessment, even after introduction. This idea has never been formally tested, at least not in an institutionalized form, but several philosophers have suggested that this option has several advantages over the first. Rather than asking ourselves whether some technology X is ethically acceptable, which is a question we know to be difficult to answer, we could replace that question with a new one, which might be easier to answer: “Is technology X an ethically acceptable social experiment?”

Back to top