Too good to be true? Appraising expectations for ethical technology assessment✎
Science and technology are paramount in defining our social practices. Computers and word processors define the practice of writing books differently from how ink and paper do. Similarly, molecular analyses of blood samples characterize the practice of diagnosing diseases differently from how an oral explanation of symptoms to a doctor does. If new technologies have a role in changing social practices, then they should be politically and socially governed. The governance of emerging S&T requires a future-oriented assessment of how currently emerging S&T will reconfigure social practices and what type of ethical and social consequences they will have.
However, assessing the extent to which emerging technologies are desirable is a difficult task that has to deal with future oriented expectations and uncertainties. Promises and expectations of emerging technologies do not provide a stable ground for such an assessment because they are often strategic and highly uncertain. Furthermore, they do not simply describe future artefacts but they also carry some ideas of what is “good” and “desirable” for society. An assessment of emerging technologies has to balance between exploring the (un)desirable consequences of emerging technologies and avoiding speculations on improbable futures.
By asking whether expectations surrounding emerging technologies are “too good to be true” this book moves the sight of the reader from the question of assessing the “desirability” of emerging technologies to the question of assessing the “plausibility” of the expectations. Building on the tradition of Philosophy of Technology and S&T Studies, this contribution justifies, explains and exemplifies an approach for assessing the plausibility of expectations. By “situating” and “thickening” expectations of two cases of emerging technologies for diagnostics, this study shows how the social and ethical consequences of emerging technologies can be explored, while avoiding ungrounded speculations.