Questions for a Technology Assessment

If you’re already familiar with what a technology assessment is all about, here are some examples of questions you can ask to help form ideas to shape your analysis:

  • Cultural/Social Context. How does technology change the way we view ourselves in the historical context? How does technology change the way we interact with one another?Science fiction provides a great source of material here, since so many stories focus on the thoughts, emotions and transformation of characters impacted by fictional technologies in ordinary social contexts. (Landon 1997) Thinking about these issues is not limited to science fiction, but is also the domain of mainstream science. For example, when the first visionary ideas of nanotechnology were conceived, discussions and debates about its possible cultural and social impacts were hypothesized. (Drexler 1986)
  • Legal/Policy. Should scientists be prohibited from doing research that might benefit terrorists? Should life forms be patented and owned? Should cloning be banned? What is appropriate in the sense that values are honored and protected? What are the environmental and health impacts of our technology use choices, and how should laws be set in place to help us preserve our surroundings and way of life – or better yet, enhance our environment and improve the quality of life for many?
  • Moral/Ethical. Are scientists or CEO’s “playing god” with a technology? How much advancement are we comfortable with, and how much should we be comfortable with? A moral and ethical analysis concerns the purpose for which the technology will be used, and how appropriate that purpose is, given the value systems active within a society. Realists will weigh the pros and cons of a situation; idealists may consider one con to be so destructive that a technology will be deemed unethical. Technology has potential to transform the way we live, the way we think, our perceptions, values, capabilities and social relations.
  • Economic. Politicians are concerned with economics, business and the law. According to Rodemeyerm “scientific and technical knowledge is rarely sought for its own sake, but rather to support policy ends.” Introduction of new technologies can cause job loss by wiping out the need for certain functions. Wealth and health can increase or decrease as the result of technology introductions.
  • Environmental/Health. How does a technology impact the environment, the health of a population, or the ability to deliver health care? Rodemeyer mentions that people are often not willing to make trade-offs. They want the convenience of air travel, but are unhappy with the environmental impacts, sound pollution, and so forth. They are unhappy with the proliferation of landfills and the destruction of the land by trash, but are sometimes unwilling to purchase less pre-packaged foods, or take the time to recycle.
  • Workforce Education & Training. As technologies are created and diffuse into general use, the need arises for people to be trained in the use of these advancements. Much like an invention without a context of use cannot be considered an innovation, an innovation without a plan to be leveraged by society will not achieve its potential.

Drexler, K.E. (1986). Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, 
     New York: Anchor Press, Doubleday.
Landon, B. (1997). Science Fiction After 1900: From the Steam Man to the Stars, 
     New York: Twayne.
Rodemeyer, M., Sarewitz, D. & Wilsdon, J. (2005). 
     The future of technology assessment. Washington, DC: Woodrow Wilson 
     International Center for Scholars. Retrieved on Nov 17, 2007 from

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