8. Summary of the RI Course

Course subject(s) 8. Summary of the RI Course

We hope you have  gained insights into the ethics behind the technologies we build and use on a daily basis. For your benefit, we have compiled a small summary of the course. See if you can refresh your memory as you read along.

In Lecture set 1, we introduced the notion of Responsible Innovation and saw how different dilemmas can arise from the lack/confusion of values and responsibilities (Trolley problem, “Many Hands”, etc).

In Lecture set 2, we learnt about values and institutions. When there are multiple values to uphold, there can be a sense of moral overload due to the inability to satisfy all these goals given the constraints of time and resources.

Moreover, emotions may run high due to the potential conflict of values; in which case, counter-intuitively, emotional responses could be seen as an opportunity to explore those values rather than a liability preventing the emergence of a solution. Moreover, one can also be optimistic about the use of innovation to satisfy multiple (conflicting/constrained) values; after all, isn’t that what innovation is about?

We also discussed how institutions – embedded social conventions and rules that structure social interactions between individuals and groups – can profoundly preserve and influence favourable values.

In Lecture set 3, we focused on how incremental and radical innovations come about, the factors that influence them, and how to manage these innovations in a conducive way.

In Lecture set 4, we highlighted frugal innovations, a type of innovation that is specifically targeted at Bottom-of-Pyramid consumers. Frugal doesn’t (just) mean cheaper technology, but rather, these innovations are tailored for the lifestyle and living conditions of the communities it will be deployed in.

That said, frugal innovations are also not automatically “responsible”, and the issue of social standards must be justified before this question may be answered.

In Lecture set 5 & Lecture set 6, we looked at one of the most important values for any technology, namely safety and security. To ensure the potential safety of a technology, we learnt how to assess a new technology for potential risks. One of the reasons for this is best illustrated by the Collingridge Dilemma: when a technology is new, it is easier to change it to be safer but we may not always know all the risks; on the other hand, once the technology becomes embedded in society, the dangers might become apparent but it becomes very hard to change it. So, not all risks can be foreseen, and there will always be the possibility of ‘unknown unknowns’. In this case, we proposed the Precautionary Principle as a good maxim, to develop new technologies with pre-emptive safeguards to mitigate as much as possible known risks.

In addition to understanding and identifying risks, it is also possible to quantify them and engineer for safety. As such, risk analysis and safety engineering were introduced. First we looked at one of the most commonly deployed methods for risk analysis: Cost-Benefit Analysis. Of course, there are some ethical concerns with this method, namely how can we price the priceless? As such, we introduced comprehensive risk analysis frameworks, with tools like Fault Tree Analysis, Bow-Tie Model that allow both a quantitative and logical understanding of risks and their consequences.

And finally, in Lecture set 7, we introduced Value Sensitive Design (VSD) as a framework for operationalising the values we want to preserve in our technologies. VSD can be formally represented in a Values Hierarchy matrix, and can be approached both top-down or bottom-up.

The visual and explicit representation allows stakeholders to debate and negotiate these values in a constructive manner. Moreover, one can critically deconstruct and question the operational criteri: are the values that we hold dear incorporated in the design, or conversely, do the criteria achieve the desired values?

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Responsible Innovation by TU Delft OpenCourseWare is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.
Based on a work at https://ocw.tudelft.nl/courses/responsible-innovation/.
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