Responsible innovation: From MOOC to book

  • Joost Groot Kormelink TU Delft, Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management
  • Sofia Kaliarnta TU Delft, Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management
  • N. Srivatsa TU Delft, Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management


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; recall for example carcinogenic asbestos or the ecological devastation
of DDT.

At the same time, we do need new technologies 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.
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.
This reader is intended to give a comprehensive but by no means exhaustive primer to
responsible innovation. Responsible Innovation (abbreviated as RI henceforth) 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:
1. Do our efforts in applied science, technology and engineering contribute to the solution of
the big problems of our age?
2. How do we find solutions for global problems in a responsible way?
3. Can technical solutions accommodate the plurality of moral values and the needs of all
parties affected?

The term “Responsible Innovation” itself was first introduced in 2006 in the context of the
Dutch Research Council Program entitled Socially Responsible Innovations.: it is now incorporated into the larger Research and Development agenda of the European Union (EU).
As recently as November 2014, the policy was endorsed and extended in the Rome
Declaration on Responsible Research and Innovation.

While thinking about RI has its roots in Europe, it is a concept with a true global reach.
Consider that we live in a hyper-connected world: science provides knowledge of the
fundamental building blocks and processes in Nature, our technologies scarcely leave any
resource 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.

Can our innovations save lives? Will they produce more jobs? Can they save the planet, or
only contribute more waste and pollution? Are they safe for users and secure from abusers?
Do they respect values and basic human rights we hold dear, like privacy, freedom, autonomy
and equality? If not, how can we make them so? If not us, who? If not now, when?

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