International Corner: News from European TA institutions
Welcome to the first International Corner – a collection of news from European Parliamentary Technology Assessment organizations.
This newsletter brings together institutions from across Europe researching how science and technology is impacting our lives, society and legislation. Through publicizing news of the many varied projects going on we hope to capitalize on sharing knowledge and address the problems that extend beyond national boundaries.
So we’re going to take a tour of some of the organizations and highlight what they have been actually up to.
June has been a busy month on the political calendar with the Queen’s Speech at the end of May setting out the upcoming legislation for the next year and the recent EU referendum. We signed an agreement with the Chilean Parliament to help them set up a scientific advice service and we’ll be sending over one of our staff to help them hit the ground running.
We’ve had a few publications coming out on a variety of topics including Financial Technologies, Infant Mortality and Stillbirth, Sugar and Public Health, and Marine Microplastics. Click, a BBC World Service program, interviewed Lydia Harriss about the Financial Technology POSTnote and our Marine Microplastics note accompanied a select committee press release which featured in several news reports.
In Switzerland, part-time work has long been established, with 37% of the working population – one of the highest rates in Europe – working part-time. Moreover, a quarter of all Swiss employees work at least partially from home, which is again one of the highest in Europe. But increasingly, driven by the uptake of new communication technology, other forms of flexible work are being added to the mix: locational flexibility (work from anywhere, shared workspaces), numeric flexibility (temporary work, crowdsourcing, liquid talents), and the transfer of entrepreneurial risk to the employee. These shifts can benefit the work-life balance and productivity but they can also lead to self-exploitation, poor social benefits, avoiding of labor regulations, and tax evasion.
In its latest study, "Flexible New World of Work – Taking inventory on the societal and macroeconomic level", TA-SWISS analyzes the impact of different forms of flexibilization for employers, employees and the economy as a whole. One of its main conclusions is that macroeconomic benefits of flexibilization depend on adequate qualifications. More details
Smart technologies and society was the focus of the ITA’s recent annual TA conference on May 30 in Vienna.
The smart revolution will change different areas of our lives significantly as our refrigerators start ordering milk, industrial machines make crucial production decisions, and vehicles drive us around automatically. But how realistic are the promises of simplicity, efficiency and optimization, which are attached to these data-driven technologies? What impact will this development have on a democratic society, our work environments and our privacy? At its annual conference, the Institute of Technology Assessment (ITA) of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (OEAW) focused on this wide range of aspects. The 26 talks ranged from the Internet of things and smart manufacturing to artificial intelligence, big data, smart energy, and assistive technologies for the elderly.
"Our task here is to not blindly follow the hype," ITA director Michael Nentwich pointed out in his opening address. Keynote speaker Dirk Helbing (ETH Zurich) stressed the risks of increasing digitization and data mining for our democracy and societies in general: "We can decide how we want to use the tons of data available. We are already heading towards manipulation and privacy infringement. We could, however, also decide to upgrade on our freedom and our social experience."
In the next decade, science, business and civil society in Germany need to work hand in hand to develop new solutions to transform the energy system. The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) is awarding 400 million in research grants to support them. The aim is to develop new energy concepts by 2025 which can be applied on an industrial scale – and which are also socially acceptable.
The Institute for Technology Assessment and Systems Analysis (ITAS) will participate in all four of the chosen consortia. The scientists will be working in many areas including
- reducing the costs of grid conversion by a combination of centralized and decentralized power generation,
- assessing the sustainability of large-scale storage of fluctuating renewable energy in the form of chemicals, gaseous energy sources and fuels,
- examining the social impact of flexible adaptation of industrial systems to a fluctuating power supply from renewables,
- and developing roadmaps for energy transition and assess the market potential of different technologies.
In 2004, the American Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) held its first challenge to build an autonomous vehicle. None of the participants managed to solve the problem. Today, Google’s self-driving vehicles have logged about 2.5 million kilometers, and cars with autopilot functions are already on the market.
Autonomous cars have in the span of a few years gone from the realm of science fiction to pressing policy matter. The Norwegian Board of Technology has written a policy brief on the subject in order to spark a debate and raise awareness of future challenges that need to be addressed now. The note highlights key policy questions, possibilities and challenges, and developments at home and abroad, and has been the subject of a program on national radio and of a meeting in the Norwegian Parliament.