Broadening our horizons
Digital technology, metatechnologies, and their implications for responsible innovation
This paper argues that responsible innovation discourses must consider the changing nature of digital innovation, if they are to stand a chance of steering the development of technology towards democratically-acceptable ends. It explores the extent to which foundational narratives of Responsible (Research and) Innovation (RRI) consider problematic features of metatechnologies – defined here as “core information technologies upon which others are based, and whose use vastly expands the degrees of freedom with which humans can act in the social and material worlds” – and implications for responsible innovation discourse in the digital age. The study finds that references underpinning paradigmatic RRI accounts include digital and metatechnology examples, albeit briefly in some cases, somewhat reinforcing the validity of seminal RRI accounts in the context of new and emerging digital technologies with metatechnological attributes. The need for additional reflection on the problematic implications of digital technologies for RRI is identified, for example with respect to distributed development, and recombinant and network-level effects. The paper concludes that the continuing value of RRI as a discourse to society will depend on researchers’ and practitioners’ awareness of the potential of these technologies for cascading, downstream innovation.
Copyright (c) 2022 Vincent Bryce, Tonii Leach, Bernd Stahl, Laurence Brooks
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