Technology Assessment of Information and Communication Technologies

Technology Assessment of Information and Communication Technologies

Armin Grunwald (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany) and Carsten Orwat (Karlsruhe Institute of Technology, Germany)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-7368-5.ch045


Technology assessment (TA) has taken up the field of information science and technology (IST) as a subject of study from the 1970s on. Nowadays, this field is of central relevance to TA in a triple respect: (1) as research field per se (e.g., with regard to impact dimensions such as privacy, data protection, increasing use of autonomous agents, safety and security, sustainable development, intellectual property rights, regulation, societal vulnerability, etc.). It is (1) also of major and even increasing importance by entering and influencing other fields of technology (e.g., energy supply, military, robotics, logistics, nanotechnology, cognitive science, neuroscience, etc.). Finally, (2) several new services made available by IST developments are of high utility in TA practice of scientific projects and policy advice (e.g., in the fields of e-participation). This chapter provides an overview of TA with respect to its origin, its development, and its current situation in general, followed by a more specific consideration of TA themes and activities in the IST field.
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Technology Assessment has its roots in specific historical circumstances in the 1960s and 1970s. Activities and concerns in the U.S. political system, in particular in the U.S. Congress, led to the creation of the Office of Technology Assessment (OTA) in 1972 (Bimber, 1996). This origin of TA found a lot of successors in Europe which succeeded in establishing the European Parliamentary Technology Assessment network (EPTA, see

Parallel to this development in the political system, far-ranging intellectual changes were taking place. The optimistic belief in scientific and technical progress, which had predominated in the post-Second World War period, came under pressure. Western societies were deeply unsettled by the “Limits of Growth” published by the Club of Rome in 1972, which addressed the limitedness of natural resources. In many fields, problems with unintended side effects of technology such as pollution and severe accidents became a matter of public debate on further scientific and technological progress. In many countries, social conflicts arose on the occasion of controversial technologies such as nuclear power (from the 1970s on) and genetically modified organisms (from the 1990s on). Ethical questions led to conflicts on the development and use of new technology, in particular in the field of health and human reproduction. Issues of privacy and data protection became a field of controversy, in particular following measures of homeland protection and surveillance strategies after the 9/11 attacks. The challenges led to a complex and multi-dimensional set of objectives and rationales of TA (Grunwald, 2009).

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