Broadening our horizons

Digital technology, metatechnologies, and their implications for responsible innovation

Keywords: Responsible Innovation, Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI), Digital Technology, Metatechnology, Critical Hermeneutics

Abstract

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.

Author Biographies

Vincent Bryce, University of Nottingham, Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training, and de Montfort University, Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, United Kingdom

PhD student based at the Horizon Centre for Doctoral Training at the University of Nottingham and the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility at De Montfort University. His research interests are responsible research and innovation in industry, digital ethics, and algorithmic workplace technologies. ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-7428-7118

Tonii Leach, de Montfort University, Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, United Kingdom

Research Assistant within the Human Brain Project. She is currently undertaking her PhD within the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility (CCSR) on fictional narratives and the discourse on discrimination in global AI policies. Her research interests include science fiction, ethics, and policy and governance of emerging technology. ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-9417-7955

Bernd Stahl, de Montfort University, Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, United Kingdom

Professor of Critical Research in Technology and Director of the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility. His interests cover philosophical issues arising from the intersections of business, technology, and information. This includes the ethics of ICT and critical approaches to information systems. ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-4058-4456

Laurence Brooks, de Montfort University, Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility, United Kingdom

Professor of Technology and Social Responsibility in the Centre for Computing and Social Responsibility at De Montfort University, Leicester, UK. His research interests are around the area of ICT and people, including social media, eGovernment, ICT4D and health, and ethics of emerging technologies. ORCID: https://orcid.org/0000-0002-5456-8799

Published
2022-02-28