Welcome to RI

Thank you very much for signing up for the course Responsible Innovation (abbreviated as RI henceforth).

We have students from all over the world,  so this MOOC offers a unique opportunity to discuss the ethical aspects of innovation and  of  new  and  emerging technologies with a truly international group of students. I do hope you will use of the opportunity to exchange ideas and discuss the many hard cases.

Innovation may bring a lot of good to society, but innovation is not a good in itself. History provides many examples of innovations and new technologies that have had serious negative consequences, or that just failed to address significant problems and make meaningful contributions to society. Consider asbestos or DDT.

At the same time, we need new technology to find solutions for grand societal challenges such as energy scarcity, ageing demographics, water management and/or food security.

So we are looking for responsible innovation in multiple upcoming fields that demand urgent attention in this regard: nanotechnology, biotechnology, artificial intelligence,  policy-making based on big data analytics, and so on. 

RI is a broad term that refers to the acts of analysis, reflection and public debate concerning the ethical principles and moral acceptability of new and emerging technologies. To do this, we must be able to answer key questions such as these:

  • Do our efforts in applied science, technology and engineering contribute to the solution of the big problems of our age?
  • How do we find solutions for global problems in a responsible way?
  • Can technical solutions accommodate the plurality of moral values and the needs of all parties affected?

RI is a term that was first introduced in Dutch Research Council Program on Socially Responsible Innovations around 2006 and now also incorporated in the Research and Development agenda of the European Union. On November 21 of 2014 this policy was endorsed in the Rome declaration on Responsible Research and Innovation under the Italian Presidency of the EU.

But, although thinking about Responsible Innovation may have its roots in Europe  it  is  a concept with a true global purchase. We live in a hyper-‐interconnected and complex world.  Our technology hardly leaves anything on the planet untouched.
So, it is of the utmost importance, our duty even, to define an adequate and shared conception of responsibility for our innovations and technologies.  Will our innovations save lives? Produce jobs? Save the planet? Are they safe and secure? Do they respect our privacy, freedom and autonomy?And if not, how can we make them so? And If not us: who? If not now: when? 

Our goal then is to give you an in-depth knowledge of what responsible innovation entails; an ethical perspective to help shape socio-technical solutions for global and regional problems.   It  will  also  provide  you with interesting case studies like, for example,  robotics, nuclear energy, self-driving vehicles and climate change. You will learn how to think about moral values as requirements for design of new technology. You will learn how to articulate value conflicts and think of creative design solutions for them.

I wish you good luck with this MOOC and I hope you enjoy it.  Have fun, and good luck!

Jeroen van den Hoven and the RI  course team