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Posted: Jul 30, 2008

The debate about converging technologies: Social discourse on science and technology

Previous chapter: Human Enhancement
The fourth option is concerned with the stimulation, enrichment, and extension of the social discourse about science and technology as a whole. It introduces the convergence perspective as a structuring element.
In addition to the ideas developed at the EU level to stimulate the systematic extension of the discussion of convergence (e.g., the suggestions in the CTEKS agenda), various other instruments and concepts from technology assessment could be deployed. The nature of the instrument "vision assessment" is rather to provide support for action and orientation. It is designed to promote primarily our political and social self-understanding, but also the political management of visions. There are various procedures, methods, and concepts some of them long since tried and tested of technology assessment and foresight that are available for the political-scientific organisation and stimulation of the social discourse on science and technology.
It would be possible to link up with pertinent projects of the German government, at EU level, and in other contexts. It would also seem desirable to intensify consideration of areas in the social sciences and humanities that are most often neglected in discussions about research policy and the debate about science policy. And finally it would be a good idea to consider political debate and research on ethical aspects of the various converging technologies and sciences, which have increased markedly in significance in recent years not only in the context of political institutions but also in a progressive differentiation (in addition to bioethics and information ethics, there is now neuroethics and nanoethics).
Particularly with this option but also with the third one the German Parliament could without a doubt play an important (and thereby presumably also an internationally relatively strongly regarded) role. The great diversity of thematic aspects and ideological conflicts which is inherent in the CT debate seems to make a cautious approach advisable. The results of current research on topics related to convergence and related themes such as human enhancement and synthetic biology should be taken into consideration.
It seems advisable to interlock such activities with those of other European parliaments and to intensify the inclusion of political advisory institutions (including the Ethics Committees). Of particular significance here is probably the continued stimulation of transatlantic exchange and the inclusion of non-Western actors in the convergence debate, which to date has been dominated by the United States and Europe, particularly on the topic of human enhancement where at least some visions touch the foundations of human existence and society.
Next chapter: Options for Research Funding
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