Technology assessment

Technology assessment (TA, German Technikfolgenabschätzung, French évaluation des choix scientifiques et technologiques) is a scientific, interactive, and communicative process that aims to contribute to the formation of public and political opinion on societal aspects of science and technology.[1]

General description

TA is the study and evaluation of new technologies. It is based on the conviction that new developments within, and discoveries by, the scientific community are relevant for the world at large rather than just for the scientific experts themselves, and that technological progress can never be free of ethical implications. Also, technology assessment recognizes the fact that scientists normally are not trained ethicists themselves and accordingly ought to be very careful when passing ethical judgement on their own, or their colleagues, new findings, projects, or work in progress.

Technology assessment assumes a global perspective and is future-oriented, not anti-technological. TA considers its task as an interdisciplinary approach to solving already existing problems and preventing potential damage caused by the uncritical application and the commercialization of new technologies.

Therefore, any results of technology assessment studies must be published, and particular consideration must be given to communication with political decision-makers.

An important problem concerning technology assessment is the so-called Collingridge dilemma: on the one hand, impacts of new technologies cannot be easily predicted until the technology is extensively developed and widely used; on the other hand, control or change of a technology is difficult as soon as it is widely used.

Technology assessments, which are a form of cost–benefit analysis, are difficult if not impossible to carry out in an objective manner since subjective decisions and value judgments have to be made regarding a number of complex issues such as (a) the boundaries of the analysis (i.e., what costs are internalized and externalized), (b) the selection of appropriate indicators of potential positive and negative consequences of the new technology, (c) the monetization of non-market values, and (d) a wide range of ethical perspectives.[2] Consequently, most technology assessments are neither objective nor value-neutral exercises but instead are greatly influenced and biased by the values of the most powerful stakeholders, which are in many cases the developers and proponents (i.e., corporations and governments) of new technologies under consideration. In the most extreme view, as expressed by Ian Barbour in '’Technology, Environment, and Human Values'’, technology assessment is "a one-sided apology for contemporary technology by people with a stake in its continuation."[3]

Some of the major fields of TA are: information technology, hydrogen technologies, nuclear technology, molecular nanotechnology, pharmacology, organ transplants, gene technology, artificial intelligence, the Internet and many more. Health technology assessment is related, but profoundly different, despite the similarity in the name.

Forms and concepts of technology assessment

The following types of concepts of TA are those that are most visible and practiced. There are, however, a number of further TA forms that are only proposed as concepts in the literature or are the label used by a particular TA institution.[4]

Technology assessment institutions around the world

Many TA institutions are members of the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA) network, some are working for the STOA panel of the European Parliament and formed the European Technology Assessment Group (ETAG).

See also


  1. Cf. the commonly used definition given in the report of the EU-funded project TAMI (Technology Assessment – Methods and Impacts) in 2004:
  2. Huesemann, Michael H., and Joyce A. Huesemann (2011). Technofix: Why Technology Won’t Save Us or the Environment, Chapter 8, "The Positive Biases of Technology Assessments and Cost Benefit Analyses", New Society Publishers, Gabriola Island, British Columbia, Canada, ISBN 0865717044, 464 pp.
  3. Barbour, I.A. (1980). Technology, environment, and human values, Praeger, p. 202.
  4. Among those concepts one finds, for instance, Interactive TA, Rational TA, Real-time TA (cp. Guston/Sarewitz (2002) Real-time technology assessment, in: Technology in Society 24, 93–109), Innovation-oriented TA Innovationsanalysen.
  5. Those TA institutions that perform PTA are organised in the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment (EPTA) network; see
  6. Cp. the 2000 EUROpTA (European Participatory Technology Assessment – Participatory Methods in Technology Assessment and Technology Decision-Making) project report
  7. Van Eijndhoven (1997) Technology assessment: Product or process? in: Technological Forecasting and Social Change 54 (1997) 269–286.
  8. Schot/Rip (1997), The Past and Future of Constructive Technology Assessment in: Technological Forecasting & Social Change 54, 251–268.
  9. van Est/Brom (2010) Technology assessment as an analytic and democratic practice, in: Encyclopedia of Applied Ethics.
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