Integrating Technology Assessment into Government Technology Policy
in Innovative Governance Models for Emerging Technologies (edited by Gary E. Marchant, Kenneth Abbott, and Braden Allenby, Edward Elgar Publishing, 2014)
39 Pages Posted: 2 Jul 2013 Last revised: 23 Sep 2015
There is little question that we face substantial challenges in the 21st century: climate change, disease, poverty, natural resource depletion and degradation, war and terrorism — the list goes on. Emerging technologies will likely be integral in resolving or mitigating many of these challenges; prominent examples include renewable energy technologies, green chemistry, biotechnology, nanotechnology, and informatics. Government policies often play a significant or even central role in advancing the development and diffusion of such technologies. Yet, these policies typically fail to account for the unintended adverse health, environmental, social and other consequences that may flow from those technologies. This chapter starts with the premise that the United States’ technology policy ought to integrate principles of protection and promotion so as to ensure the availability of truly beneficial technologies. It examines the extent to which this integration can be accomplished through technology assessment at the legislative stage of policy formulation. For these purposes, technology assessment refers to the systematic assessment and evaluation of the positive and negative impacts of an ostensibly beneficial technology. Technology assessment has a decades-long history, starting primarily in the United States and more recently establishing itself in Europe. It takes many forms, not all of which will be appropriate for use in legislative settings in the United States.
After some definitional matters regarding the notion of technological change, the chapter turns to two specific aspects of government technology policy. Promotional policies actively support the development and use of emerging technologies through research funding, direct subsidies and other strategies. Regulatory policies create a demand for emerging technologies by removing market competitors, creating a need for the emerging technology, or even requiring its use. Next, the chapter examines the problem of unintended consequences by identifying potential causes and exploring the historical example of methyl tertiary-butyl ether (MTBE) and the Clean Air Act. The chapter then briefly surveys the field of technology assessment, and considers how it could mitigate the problem of unintended consequences in the legislative setting. It concludes that, given the institutional structure and dynamics of Congress, technology assessment can address some, but not all, causes of such unintended consequences.
Keywords: technology advancements, technology assessments, U.S. technology policies
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