The Office of Technology Assessment at the German Parliament (TAB) just released an English summary to a recent report on Converging Technologies, by Christopher Coenen. He is one of the key speakers during the EthicSchool on Ethics of Converging Technologies, 21- 26 September 2008 at the Dormotel Vogelsberg in Alsfeld /Romrod, Germany.
Coenen explains that the term Converging Technologies may have been coined in the United States in 2001, but that discussions and research programmes have now spread to Europe (EU, Germany, Spain, Netherlands, etc) and other parts of the world including Canada, Africa, Asia and Latin America. He distinguishes a debate on human enhancement; and discussions about Converging Technologies (CT) research policy and scientific and technological activities. Conceptions of the term “Convergence” are different in the USA (Nano, Bio, Info, Cogno), Europe (CT for the European Knowledge Society), Germany (Converging Technologies for Smart (Micro) Systems Technology) and other countries. Utopian and dystopian long term visions for Converging Technologies and Human Enhancement offer clear potential for social conflict. Most of the discussions have so far been limited to academic circles, but some have reached political relevance. These focus on the relationship between nature and technology and between the grown and the artificial. Differences in views on what it means to be human are central to these disputes. The criticism against promoters of convergence visions is that the feasibility is doubtful and that the views are inspired by political and ideological motives.
Convergence processes in Research and Development are partly inspired by the policy debate and non-scientific research activities, but can also be seen as a more general trend in trans- or interdisciplinary research cooperation. Such convergence processes show up in the results of bibliometric studies in a number of areas of research. These processes may require policy initiatives stimulating interdisciplinary research.
Coenen analyses political initiatives and activities in the USA, European Union and Germany as well as some other countries. He outlines options for actions and the possible requirements for research in Nanoconvergence and Microsystems Technology; Multidisciplinary, Interdisciplinary and Transdisciplinary Research; Human Enhancement; and Social Discourse on Science and Technology. Finally, he ends by suggesting options for research funding.