We live in a world increasingly governed by technology—but to what end?
Technology rules us as much as laws do. It shapes the legal, social, and ethical environments in which we act. Every time we cross a street, drive a car, or go to the doctor, we submit to the silent power of technology. Yet, much of the time, the influence of technology on our lives goes unchallenged by citizens and our elected representatives. In The Ethics of Invention, renowned scholar Sheila Jasanoff dissects the ways in which we delegate power to technological systems and asks how we might regain control.
Our embrace of novel technological pathways, Jasanoff shows, leads to a complex interplay among technology, ethics, and human rights. Inventions like pesticides or GMOs can reduce hunger but can also cause unexpected harm to people and the environment. Often, as in the case of CFCs creating a hole in the ozone layer, it takes decades before we even realize that any damage has been done. Advances in biotechnology, from GMOs to gene editing, have given us tools to tinker with life itself, leading some to worry that human dignity and even human nature are under threat. But despite many reasons for caution, we continue to march heedlessly into ethically troubled waters.
As Jasanoff ranges across these and other themes, she challenges the common assumption that technology is an apolitical and amoral force. Technology, she masterfully demonstrates, can warp the meaning of democracy and citizenship unless we carefully consider how to direct its power rather than let ourselves be shaped by it. The Ethics of Invention makes a bold argument for a future in which societies work together—in open, democratic dialogue—to debate not only the perils but even more the promises of technology.
About the Author
Sheila Jasanoff is professor of science and technology studies at Harvard Kennedy School. She is the author of many books on technology, most recently Science and Public Reason and Designs on Nature. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
Jasanoff argues for an entirely new body of ethical discourse, going beyond technical risk assessment to give due weight to economic, cultural, social and religious perspectives. . . . Jasanoff thoughtfully discusses the limits of conventional risk analysis, with its biases in favour of innovation and quantification. . . . The book helps to pinpoint recurring patterns in contemporary technological debates and to frame what is at stake in their outcomes.
— Steven Aftergood - Nature
Impressively spanning advances in biomedicine, information technology, and green biotechnology, Jasanoff deftly draws out the social and political dramas of technological systems in a series of case studies, revealing how we attempt to steer new science and technology to create more equitable, sustainable, and prosperous societies. Jasanoff’s engaging prose brings essential and thoughtful attention to questions of justice, the limits of expert prediction, and the unwieldiness of responsibility in the 21st century.
— Cynthia Selin - Science
A remarkable book which brings government and technology into much-needed dialogue. Across disasters and designer babies, GMO crops and information technologies, Sheila Jasanoff expertly tracks the social and technological forces that shape our worlds. Drawing on the full range of her previous scholarship, she elegantly raises a number of profound questions concerning the possibilities for democratic control over technological forces which seem too fast, too complex and too unpredictable for our institutions to handle. Along the way, our very notion of democracy is extended, challenged and transformed.
— Professor Alan Irwin, Department of Organization, Copenhagen Business School
Not bewitched by technological promises, The Ethics of Invention reclaims the future for human creativity. Sheila Jasanoff opens our eyes to the fact that societies are governed by technical systems as much as by the rule of law. And if we want to govern ourselves well, we need collective imaginations of the world we want to live in.
— Professor Alfred Nordmann, Darmstadt Technical University