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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Technology in the Age of Innovation: Responsible Innovation as a New Subdomain Within the Philosophy of Technology

von Schomberg, L., Blok, V. 
Philos. Technol. 34, 309–323 (2021). 


Praised as a panacea for resolving all societal issues, and self-evidently presupposed as technological innovation, the concept of innovation has become the emblem of our age. This is especially reflected in the context of the European Union, where it is considered to play a central role in both strengthening the economy and confronting the current environmental crisis. The pressing question is how technological innovation can be steered into the right direction. To this end, recent frameworks of Responsible Innovation (RI) focus on how to enable outcomes of innovation processes to become societally desirable and ethically acceptable. However, questions with regard to the technological nature of these innovation processes are rarely raised. For this reason, this paper raises the following research question: To what extent is RI possible in the current age, where the concept of innovation is predominantly presupposed as technological innovation? On the one hand, we depart from a post-phenomenological perspective to evaluate the possibility of RI in relation to the particular technological innovations discussed in the RI literature. On the other hand, we emphasize the central role innovation plays in the current age, and suggest that the presupposed concept of innovation projects a techno-economic paradigm. In doing so, we ultimately argue that in the attempt to steer innovation, frameworks of RI are in fact steered by the techno-economic paradigm inherent in the presupposed concept of innovation. Finally, we account for what implications this has for the societal purpose of RI.

The Conclusion

Hence, even though RI provides a critical analysis of innovation at the ontic level (i.e., concerning the introduction and usage of particular innovations), it still lacks a critical analysis at the ontological level (i.e., concerning the techno-economic paradigm of innovation). Therefore, RI is in need of a fundamental reflection that not only exposes the techno-economic paradigm of innovation—which we did in this paper—but that also explores an alternative concept of innovation which addresses the public good beyond the current privatization wave. The political origins of innovation that we encountered in Section 2, along with the political ends that the RI literature explicitly prioritizes, suggest that we should inquire into a political orientation of innovation. A crucial task of this inquiry would be to account for what such a political orientation of innovation precisely entails at the ontic level, and how it relates to the current techno-economic paradigm of innovation at the ontological level.