Encouraging debate that will shape the future
Relations, synergies or fusions between broad fields of research and development (R&D), such as biotechnology and the life sciences, nanoscience and nanotechnology, information and communication technologies (ICT), cognitive science and neurotechnologies, are at the core of the converging technologies (CT) concept. Discussions of fast-paced developments in these areas (including robotics and artificial intelligence (AI)), are critical to examining the future impact of all science and engineering. As such, and given Europe’s path toward a knowledge-based society, the relevant research community must be prepared to face and address a wide range of pertinent issues and questions. The Specific Support Action (SSA) 'Converging tecnologies and their impact on social sciences and humanities' (Contecs) was set up to facilitate the establishment of a research agenda with regard to CT. Project partners thus set out to address the roles that the social sciences and humanities (SSH) could play in the phenomenon of technological convergence as well as their potential influence in its shaping. An integrated and systemic approach was also used to explore the ever important societal and ethical implications of developments in the field of CT and ways in which SSH could best address them. Europe has adopted a demand-driven approach that includes interdisciplinary cooperation, whereby CT are seen to respond to societal demands and needs. This aims to extend the focus on ‘human enhancement’, which is seen to have largely influenced the CT discourse and sparked debates across a broad range of related topics. Contecs studied the historical and institutional origins of CT and focused on visions of trans-humanism, viewed as a powerful instrument in the shaping of this convergence. As such, the study highlighted that decisions regarding which SSH approaches are appropriate for arriving at a better understanding of CT are themselves shaped by the ontological politics. For example, the political construction of 'nano-convergence' in one particular country may point to the major role played by funding institutions in setting the relevant agenda or even determining its goals and content. Members of the Contecs team also noted that methods of textual analysis can be used to understand the role of ontological politics in contemporary discussions and debates that do not explicitly attend to visions of CT. That is, rather than contributing to policy debates on CT, they formulate questions and concerns about what CT might be, the work being carried out and by whom, and to which organisations or agencies actors are accountable. All are vital to progressing discourse on CT and are the means by which scientists, academics and policymakers, among others, learn how to speak about the phenomenon. Project efforts therefore highlight the importance of such discussions in contributing to a better understanding of CT.