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Governance and Ethics of New and Emerging Technologies

As science advances, new guiding principles and rules are necessary to ensure that fundamental rights and values are preserved. The Science in Society (SIS) Programme has a role to play in making sure dialogue that frames decision-making on the governance and ethics of new and emerging technologies is rigorous, comprehensive and transparent.

Ethics, privacy, and new and emerging S&T fields

Increasingly, ethical frameworks for new and emerging fields of science and technology (S&T) are required to address the issue of privacy. This issue has emerged as a theme across a range of new technologies, such as information, security, biometrics, biomedical, and even the prospective applications of specific nanotechnologies.

At the same time, privacy remains a relevant policy issue for various sectors, such as health, justice and homeland security, as well as for the rights of consumers, who may be confronted with RFID (radio-frequency identification) and surveillance technologies. New techniques, such as DNA research, smart cameras and data mining, have made it easier than ever before to store and process personal information.

This raises the question, therefore, of whether the European citizen has sufficient knowledge about the type of information that is being stored, the period of time that it will be stored, and its overall purpose. Moreover, it is not known if a citizen will have access to that information and the ability to modify it, if required.

Privacy protection is guided, in part, by European legislation, which pre-dates the emergence of new technologies. How can the Charter on Fundamental Rights, in which privacy and data protection is mentioned, serve as a basis for possible further legislative action in this field? Research on ethics under the Seventh Framework Programme (FP7) addresses both the research and technological development (RTD) phase and the application phase of new technologies.

Research on privacy and new technologies under FP7 should yield insights into how our understanding of privacy may change in light of these technologies. The research should also explore how privacy is weighed against other ethical values related to security and practical convenience, and against specific research needs such as ensuring common access to data to advance knowledge.

The following research projects have been funded under FP7: ETHICAL (Promoting International Debate on Ethical Implications of Data Collection, Use and Retention for Biometric and Medical Applications), PATS (Privacy Awareness through Security Branding), PRESCIENT (Privacy and Emerging Fields of Science and Technology: Towards a Common Framework for Privacy and Ethical Assessment), EGAIS (The Ethical Governance of Emerging Technologies New Governance Perspectives for Integrating Ethics into Technical Development Projects and Applications), and PRACTIS (Privacy – Appraising Challenges to Technologies and Ethics).

Ethics and governance frameworks for new and emerging S&T fields

A recurring challenge with respect to ethical issues that arise from new and emerging S&T fields is that they can give rise to concerns that cannot be dealt with adequately by existing regulations or even guidelines. Such fields are in need of new frameworks for assessment. Research is also needed to develop new insights into how ethical issues pertaining to new and emerging S&T fields are being evaluated by citizens, and how their concerns may be considered in policymaking.

The following research projects have been funded under the FP7: Value Isobars (The Landscape and Isobars of European Values in Relation to Science and New Technology), TECHNOLIFE (A Transdisciplinary Approach to the Emerging Challenges of Novel Technologies: Lifeworld and Imaginaries in Foresight and Ethics), and STEPE (Sensitive Technologies and European Public Ethics).

Synthetic biology

Synthetic biology (SynBio) is a converging technology that uses tools and concepts from many scientific disciplines, notably engineering, genetics, biotechnology, informatics and nanotechnology. It aims to engineer biological components and systems that do not exist in nature and re-engineer existing biological elements. Applications of SynBio research include environmental and health benefits, such as biofuels, biosensors and new therapeutics.

However, many uncertainties surround these developments, and SynBio can give rise to societal concerns related to access, equity, bioterrorism, dual use and the dignity of life. There is also concern as to whether current regulations and guidelines are adequate for dealing with this new field.

The following research projects have been funded under FP7: SYBHEL (Synthetic Biology for Human Health: Ethical and Legal Issues) and SYNTH-ETHICS (Ethical and Regulatory Challenges Raised by Synthetic Biology).

ICT and ethics

Information and communication technologies (ICT) have had a tremendous impact on modern life, and continue to rapidly transform the way we relate to one another on both a personal and professional level. In the future, we should expect the development of intelligent environments, telecare and personal health systems, cognitive enhancement, biometrics, and ICT for security. To align ICT research and innovation with the needs of society, a systematic reflection on the ethical, legal and social aspects (ELSA) of such developments is necessary.

The following research projects have been funded under FP7: ICTethics (An Interdisciplinary Approach for Addressing Ethical, Social and Legal Aspects of ICT), EFORTT (Ethical Frameworks for Telecare Technologies for Older People at Home), ETICA (Ethical Issues of Emerging ICT Applications), and ETHENTECH (Ethics of Enhancement Technology).

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