About the ESDiT programme
The overall aim of the research programme is to develop a comprehensive philosophical understanding of the socially disruptive technologies (SDTs) of the 21st century, and in particular their challenge to the very concepts and values that we normally appeal to in our moral thinking. These concepts and values form the basis of our current moral, political, and anthropological order. There is an urgency to this aim, as we need to develop new moral frameworks to guide these technologies for the betterment of humanity.
The need for a reflective turn
We are now at the beginning of a new era of technological innovation; New generations of the technologies that have emerged since the second world war are converging and undergoing widespread integration. This makes whole new fields possible, including artificial intelligence, robotics, synthetic biology, nanomedicine, next-generation genomics, neurotechnology and geo-engineering. These are socially disruptive technologies (SDTs) that have the potential to radically alter everyday life, cultural practices and social and economic institutions.
Societal disruption may well be necessary and desirable for responding to pressing global problems such as climate change and depletion of natural resources. But the technologies also raise tough moral questions that are in need of ethical evaluation. A complication is they may affect the basic concepts and values that we normally appeal to in our ethical thinking, such as the distinction between nature and artifact or our conceptions of freedom and responsibility. A reflective turn in the ethics of technology is therefore necessary.
A study of key ethical and philosophical concepts
The ESDIT research program in ethics and practical philosophy of technology seeks to realize a reflective turn. Our aim is to reorient the field of ethics of technology by taking up the challenge that socially disruptive technologies pose to our core concepts. In particular, to
- the concepts that underlie our moral self-understanding, such as (moral) agency, autonomy, human interdependence, and responsibility;
- the concepts that form the basis of our political, social and legal institutions, such as democracy, justice, and equality;
- the basic ontological categories that we use to order our world, such as the distinctions between natural and artificial, humans and machines, public and private, and agents and physical systems.
Developing new concepts, theories and methods
In this research programme, we aim to develop 21th–century ontological and moral concepts for a 21th–century world. The conceptual reevaluations and innovations that this research brings forth will be used not only to innovate ethics of technology, but also the field of ethics and practical philosophy as a whole, as well as the social sciences. In parallel we aim to develop new theories and methods that are necessary to understand, morally assess and intervene in the development and implementation of this new generation of socially disruptive technologies.
Our Three focal points
In the programme we will focus on three clusters of emerging SDTs:
New digital technologies
including robotics, artificial intelligence, machine learning, Internet of Things (IoT), big data, blockchain, social media, and quantum computing.
New bio- and brain technologies
including gene editing, gene drives, synthetic biology, neurotechnology, advanced medical and food technologies, and technologies for human enhancement.
New environmental & sustainable technologies
including energy technologies, water technologies, recycling and other technologies for the circular economy, climate engineering, and bio-based and low-carbon technologies.
Our Specific aims
New comprehensive approaches
We aim to develop new comprehensive approaches in ethics and philosophy for analyze, morally evaluating and intervening in the development and implementation of socially disruptive technologies, specifically the newest generation.
Innovating ethics & philosophy
We aim to engage in systematic, reflective studies of key philosophical and ethical concepts that are challenged by SDTs, thereby innovating the ethics and philosophy of technology and the field of (practical) philosophy as a whole
Connecting ethics to engineering
We aim to innovate the ethics and philosophy of technology by repositioning its relation to the engineering sciences by developing collaborative models between philosophers and engineers aimed at improved philosophical and ethical analysis and responsible innovation.
Study disruptive technologies
We aim to develop innovative, longitudinal and encompassing philosophical and ethical studies of the new generation of SDT’s and their impacts on humans, nature and society, including studies of new digital technologies, new bio and brain technologies, and new environmental and sustainable technologies for a circular economy.
ESDiT Research Lines
Research in the Esdit programme is structured along four research lines. The goal is to develop an integrated assessment of SDTs and the moral frameworks needed to guide their development.