I would like to draw readers’ attention to two recently published articles on Responsible Innovation. Both are written or co-authored by Bernd Carsten Stahl of De Montfort University, are freely available through open access platforms and offer plenty of food for thought.
The first article is entitled Responsible research and innovation: The role of privacy in an emerging framework and is published through the Science and Public Policy journal.
In this article Stahl describes Responsible Research and Innovation (RRI) as a “higher-level responsibility or meta-responsibility”.
The paper first outlines the history and definitions currently in use for RRI, citing many authors that will be well known to Foundation readers including Von Schomberg and Sutcliffe. Stahl goes on to discuss the dimensions, activities and actors within RRI and its normative foundations, before moving on to what I feel is the key argument of this paper, that of RRI as meta-responsibility.
As stated above, the author proposes the following definition:
“RRI is a higher level responsibility or meta-responsibility that aims to shape, maintain, develop, coordinate and align existing and novel research and innovation-related processes, actors and responsibilities with a view to ensuring desirable and acceptable research outcomes“.
He defines a meta-responsibility as “a responsibility for the maintenance, development and coordination of existing responsibilities”. This definition offers several lines for investigation from the Foundation’s standpoint, as it ties the political actor into the argument, alongside other institutions, individuals and society itself.
The section on privacy debates how and why privacy issues should be addressed by RRI, and their importance as currently well developed fields of discussion, with the final section offering some concluding remarks and opening a debate into the future of RRI and privacy.
The second article I would like to review is entitled The empathic care robot: A prototype of responsible research and innovation, and can be found here in the Technological Forecasting and Social Change journal.
Stahl co-authors this article with Neil McBride, Kutoma Wakunuma and Catherine Flick, and they describe the “science fiction prototyping” approach to visualize or represent novel technologies or other techno-scientific innovations.
Their example is of a radio play that tells the story of a prototype robot that has affective capacities. The capacities involved include the recognition of human emotions, the expression of emotions in ways humans can understand and the modeling of emotions.
Before the play script the authors introduce the theoretical context and the background to the approach. This is grounded in the ETICA project, that under the EU’s 7th Framework Program aimed to identify emerging information and communication technologies (ICTs), the ethical issues these are likely to raise, and to evaluate and develop governance recommendations to help address them. The authors then go on to debate the need for a discourse on RRI before presenting the radio play vignette in dialogue format.
The play is very well structured in that it manages to recount multiple sides of the development process and ethical issues surrounding the story, including a meeting between the robot’s lead developer and the RRI Inspectors that provides the backdrop for the unfolding family drama.
A radio interview takes place early in the play, within which the ethical debate is opened, but as so typical in news reporting, statements are broad and non critical. This is followed by opening up different interests involved in the meeting process, with different interpretations of goals and opportunities coming to the fore.
A parallel family disaster unfolds, directly caused by the empathy engine that is an integral part of the robot’s functioning, but I don’t want to spoil it for you, so will say no more. It is a thought provoking read that displays superb capacity for complex story telling.
The authors conclude by explaining how Science fiction prototyping engages with the conflicts, emotions and cultural change that a new technology brings. They discuss prototyping, futures and innovation research from a perspective that is somewhat similar to scenario thinking (see this 2009 article for a look at earlier approaches within ICT).
Readers will also find various articles on this website that raise issues surrounding empathy in robotics. Contributor Luisa Damiano is a researcher in the field.
Readers will find her contributions to a series called The Mechanization of Empathy in Healthcare, posted in 2009, and a further 2 articles posted in 2008 that debate artificial empathy through this blog link, and a search under roboethics will reveal many more related articles.
(photo: MERTZ / Lijin Aryananda by Ars Electronica from Flickr)