Why Responsible Innovation?

The concept of innovation has long enjoyed almost mystical status as the key to unlimited growth, health, and prosperity. And indeed it has brought innumerable benefits.

But today we are well past the point when innovation as such can be blindly embraced as an inevitable good. 

We have seen our data hacked, our genes edited, and our democracy distorted – all in the name of innovation.

What once seemed like the answer to everything – more technology, faster innovation – now appears more often as yet another challenge.  Not long ago social progress and technological progress seemed synonymous.  They no longer do.

Our cultural touchstone for technology has gone from Star Trek to Black Mirror.

But clearly it need not be this way. Technological innovation still does a world of good every day. And our greatest challenges, like climate change, simply cannot be addressed without major new innovations – even while we recognize the role that prior rounds of innovation played in creating them.

Moreover, with powerful new innovations like machine learning and gene editing on the horizon, or already here, we urgently need a new vision for how to responsibly develop and deploy them.

In short, as we grow in our technological powers, we are finding that we must also grow in our ability to properly shape them.

But how do we do that?  How do we innovate responsibly?  And what role must the innovators themselves play in this? This is a challenging question – in many ways more challenging than the technical innovations themselves.

But some things are clear already: It will take more than engineering skill or technical breakthroughs.  It will also take more than business analytics, market validation, or economic data.  And it will take more than philosophical reflection, sociological findings, or psychological insights.

It will take all these things – and the people who do them – working cooperatively together, informing one another, challenging one another, and aspiring to a new, humane vision of what innovation can mean.

This is the emerging concept of Responsible Innovation.  But what would that actually look like? And can it really work?

This program will give you a chance to explore these questions for yourself.  Not merely through training, but through experience.  You can help to forge that new vision of innovation – one that doesn’t see disruption or profit as ends in themselves, but as a means to serve the common good.

This is a training program.  But it is also an opportunity – and an expectation – to make a meaningful contribution to this goal.


Funding for this project was provided by the National Science Foundation under award number SES-1926280.