Emerging Technologies

The term “emerging technologies” refers to those techniques, artefacts or application areas that are already discernible but are not yet fully developed. There is a broad range of stages of development, all of which exhibit particular problems or issues. Emerging technologies that are already in use and on course to broaden intosocial use (e.g. cloud computing) are easy to observe but difficult to change. Others which are on a lower technology readiness level (e.g. quantum computing), make the technology more open to policy intervention but which is more difficult to describe. The thematic area of emerging technologies moves within this space described by the Collingridge (1981) dilemma and undertakes research in order to minimise its effects.

CCSR has a strong track record of working on emerging technologies, notably through the EU FP7 projects ETICA and PHM ethics.

This thematic area therefore aims to:

  • Identify new technologies
  • Explore the ethical issues these technologies may raise
  • Identify ways in which these could be addressed
  • Engage in broader discourses with users, industry, policy makers and other stakeholders about these technologies.

Indicative Examples

Emerging technologies are by definition not yet completely developed. In addition the high rate of development and increasing pace of innovation mean that it is impossible to create a comprehensive list of them. However, the ETICA findings suggest that the following are candidates for further research:

  • Affective Computing
  • Ambient Intelligence
  • Artificial Intelligence
  • Bioelectronics
  • Cloud Computing
  • Future Internet
  • Human Machine Symbiosis
  • Neuroelectronics
  • Quantum Computing
  • Robotics
  • Virtual/Augmented Reality

This is a non-exclusive list and other work in the CCSR on topics such as brain computer interfaces or speckled computing would fit in this thematic areas.

Approaches to Emerging Technologies

Part of the work on emerging ICTs concentrates on identifying and describing this. This type of research can broadly be described as technology forecasting or technology foresight (Cuhls, 2003; Georghiou, Harper, Keenan, Miles, & Popper, 2008; Martin, 2010). These are well established approaches and methodologies that CCSR work may want to draw upon.

The possibly more interesting and less explored aspect of this stream of work refers to the ethical and social aspects of those novel technologies. This raises numerous methodological issues, for example how one can assess the ethical consequences of something that does not yet exist in full. There are initial attempts to answer this question, including the ETICA methodology, and the CCSR is well placed to contribute to this debate (Brey, 2011; Gutmann, 2011; Moor, 2008; Sollie & Düwell, 2009; Stahl, 2011).

Activities of the Thematic Area


  • Which are the most relevant emerging technologies?
    - What are the criteria according to which this could be determined
    - Where does the CCSR have the resources to intervene in relevant debates?
  • What research questions are worth pursuing?
  • How can the research be supported? (e.g. funded project, PhD student work)
  • Which outcomes would we envisage (academic publications, public engagement, policy advice,…)?
  • How can these be realised?

Possible Research Student Projects

The following are ideas that could lend themselves to the development of research projects. They are not ready-made projects but will need to be developed in more detail by applicants.

The future of information security:

The growing ubiquity of ICT means that issues of security will grow in prominence. New types and quantities of data will require new approaches to security. At the same time new technical developments will facilitate new ways of securing information but also create new threats to security. This project could explore the technical or social aspects of security. As a CCSR project, it will focus on the social and ethical assumptions and implications of such developments. Possible methodologies would include a critical discourse analysis of security discourses or disclosive ethical analysis of emerging security technologies.

Emerging ethical approaches and their application to technology:

Much work on computer and information ethics concentrates on a relatively limited number of ethical theories (i.e. utilitarianism, (Kantian) deontology and virtue ethics). While there are numerous scholars in the area who employ other ethical approaches or develop specific new ones (e.g. information ethics, disclosive ethics), there is scope for a further broadening of the field. Possible PhD projects in this area would look at neighbouring fields, such as medical ethics, bioethics or business ethics and explore to which extent they could inform debate in computer and information ethics. An area of interest is how one can map / predict future moral perceptions and their ethical reflection.

Ethics of emerging technologies:

The ETICA project has identified a number of emerging technologies that are likely to be socially relevant in the next 10 to 15 years. These technologies are likely to raise ethical issues that are currently developing. For more detail see the project website. From this research a number of possible PhD projects can arise. Most of the individual technologies are in need of further investigation. A different approach could be a comparative analysis. One suitable way of addressing these issues would be that of disclosive ethics.




  • Brent Mittelstadt
  • Kerstin Wahlstrom

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