Technology assessment (TA, German Technikfolgenabschätzung, French évaluation des choix scientifiques et technologiques) is a scientific, interactive, and communicative process that aims to contribute to the formation of public and political opinion on societal aspects of science and technology.
Note: This section/article is currently under revision as it does not live up to the current state of TA knowledge and practice. See the related discussion here.
TA is the study and evaluation of new technologies. It is based on the conviction that new developments within, and discoveries by, the scientific community are relevant for the world at large rather than just for the scientific experts themselves, and that technological progress can never be free of ethical implications. Also, technology assessment recognizes the fact that scientists normally are not trained ethicists themselves and accordingly ought to be very careful when passing ethical judgement on their own, or their colleagues, new findings, projects, or work in progress.
Technology assessment assumes a global perspective and is future-oriented rather than backward-looking or anti-technological. ("Scientific research and science-based technological innovation is an indispensable prerequisite of modern life and civilization. There is no alternative. For six or eight billion people there is no way back to a less sophisticated life style." ). TA considers its task as interdisciplinary approach to solving already existing problems and preventing potential damage caused by the uncritical application and the commercialization of new technologies. Therefore any results of technology assessment studies must be published, and particular consideration must be given to communication with political decision-makers.
An important problem, TA has to deal with it, is the so-called Collingridge dilemma: on the one hand, impacts of new technologies cannot be easily predicted until the technology is extensively developed and widely used; on the other hand, control or change of a technology is difficult as soon as it is widely used.
Some of the major fields of TA are: information technology, hydrogen technologies, nuclear technology, molecular nanotechnology, pharmacology, organ transplants, gene technology, artificial intelligence, the Internet and many more. Health technology assessment is related, but profoundly different, despite the similarity in the name.
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