This research area focuses on the assessment of the impacts of new technologies which are considered to have a significant potential to both change existing technological, economic, and social structures and contribute to achieving important goals of society. Those technologies, often also called key technologies, are analyzed in the context of innovation processes, especially with regard to the conditions in which they are developed and the intended and unintended impacts of their widespread application. Only this reference, the concept of research and technology development as social processes, allows a statement on technology impacts and the possibilities of technology design.
Technologies, technological products, and techniques do not originate on their own but are the result of numerous perspectives, interests, and interactions between various parties (researchers and developers, political decision-makers, entrepreneurs, users, the general public) who co-operate in varying constellations during the different phases of the innovation process. Both real and anticipated impacts of technology can become problematic at every single stage of such a process, demands for strategic knowledge and knowledge for decision-making processes might arise and influence the decisions of the actors.
The research questions pursued in this research area stand in the tradition of technology assessment with explicit references to foresight and socio-scientific technology and innovation research. Primarily investigated are:
- Structural patterns of innovation processes and parameters influencing the course of innovation, especially regarding their relation to intended and unintended impacts of technology,
- societal processes of formation and design of new technologies including the role of technology visions, discourses, and media,
- interrelations between technological inventions and societal innovation processes (especially with regard to non-economic, i.e. cultural or social, factors),
- governance of new technologies, political technology design, and the establishment of priorities in technology and research politics as well as
- questions on the methods of early detection of technology impacts.
The scientific results are applied to disciplinary and interdisciplinary scientific discourses and used in the practice of technology assessment as scientific policy advice.