Life and technology

How are new technologies changing biology, medicine, and our human existence?
ITAS Thema Life and Technology

Advances in biotechnology, information technology, medicine, and neurotechnology, including artificial intelligence (AI), can enhance the possibilities for a better life. This applies to individual areas such as health, nutrition, and sport, but also more generally to work and everyday life and to ecological challenges (e.g., health consequences of climate change). Controversial aspects are not only new risks (e.g., social exclusion), but also trends toward the (re)design of biological organisms, processes, and systems as well as the mechanization of humans: the boundaries between biological and social life on the one hand and technology on the other are becoming even more permeable, technological interfaces to humans (e.g., in robotics and “human enhancement”) increasingly intimate. In this context, responsible research and innovation (RRI) requires close cooperation with disadvantaged or particularly affected groups and consideration of a variety of ethical views, social perspectives, and stakeholder interests.   

ITAS has long been working on the convergence of biology and information technology (“bio-info nexus”). Research focuses, among other things, on new biotechnologies for understanding and (re)designing biological systems (e.g., through genome editing or cellular agriculture), various fields of robotics and AI applications, and the mechanization of humans through neurotechnology and prosthetics. To investigate their cultural significance, the institute also engages in art-science collaborations and hermeneutic TA (FUTUREBODY project). Other areas of focus include issues of trust in science, assistive systems, and needs assessments in care, different aspects of biomedical and health research (including citizen science, health data, “health equity,” and AI use), critical analysis of ableism, the COVID-19 pandemic, and more generally conditions for health and good living (NoWa project). The goal is always to align the governance of research and technology development with societal needs.

New biotechnologies for biological cognition and (re)design approaches

ITAS investigates new and emerging areas of life sciences and biotechnology as well as the increasingly important role of AI in these areas (Deepen Genomics project). Among other things, the researchers are addressing the societal implications of synthetic biology, which was recently critical to vaccine development in the COVID-19 pandemic (SYNENERGENE project), as well as genomics and genome editing technologies. Their applications for industrial biotechnology and medicine as well as new technologies in the food sector, e.g., in vitro meat production using cellular agriculture, are also being investigated. 

Fields of application and social aspects of robotics and AI

ITAS deals with many civilian robotics applications, in particular also in personalized everyday assistance (e.g., for people with limited mobility) as well as in care and nursing (JuBot, Assistive technologies for the inclusion of people with disabilities, and MOVEMENZ projects). Another focus is on the digitalization of the working world, which is increasingly characterized by algorithms and robots. It is analyzed, for example, with regard to health aspects, automation history aspects, and in terms of “human enhancement.” Finally, the topic of AI deals with technology fields such as robotics, image-based medical diagnostics and treatment, and neurotechnology as well as the healthcare system.  

Neurotechnology, prosthetics, and the mechanization of humans

Advances in neurotechnology, prosthetics, and AI reinforce trends toward human-technology fusion and other waves of especially digital mechanization in everyday life and work (KARL project). The topics of ITAS range from advanced limb prosthetics (INOPRO project) to the present and visions of neurotechnology (including consumer neurotechnologies), expectations of human abilities, and criticism of ableism to questions of human enhancement and the mechanization of human images.

Responsible research and innovation

ITAS’s research aims to contribute to the development of safe and ethically acceptable technology that meets individual and societal needs. ITAS therefore conducts research in inter- and transdisciplinary “co-creation” processes – with committed citizens, industry (PRISMA project), politics, and civil society – on the social contexts of technology development and use, for example, by the elderly or ill persons (TERRAIN and QuartrBack projects). Another central issue is the question of trust in science, which is investigated both in depth with regard to research ethics (iRECS project) and more comprehensively with regard to science, research, and innovation (IANUS project). Here, ITAS also works with and on citizen science initiatives (TeQfor1 project), conducts ability expectation analyses to criticize ableism, tests “art-science interfaces,” and addresses emerging technologies (e.g., quantum technology) as well as health consequences of crisis-related changes such as climate change and the COVID-19 pandemic (FOCO project).

Projects on the topic

To the complete project list


Further contact

Jonas Moosmüller
Public relations
Tel.: +49 721 608-26796

Publications on the topic

Bratan, T.; Nierling, L.; Maia, M. J.
Technische und menschliche Unterstützung von Menschen mit Behinderungen – Anforderungen an eine gelingende Inklusion
2022. Luthe, Ernst-Wilhelm; Müller, Sandra Verena; Schiering, Ina (Hg.): Assistive Technologien im Sozial- und Gesundheitssektor, 669–686, Springer Fachmedien Wiesbaden. doi:10.1007/978-3-658-34027-8_27
Coenen, C.; Grunwald, A.
Von der Erlösung zur Lösungsorientierung und zurück? Quasi-religiöse Zukunftsvisionen als Herausforderung und Chance für die Technikfolgenabschätzung
2022. Immanente Religion – Transzendente Technologie: Technologiediskurse und gesellschaftliche Grenzüberschreitungen. Hrsg.: Sabine Maasen, David Atwood, 159–190, Verlag Barbara Budrich 
Bröckerhoff, P.; Evers-Wölk, M.; Sonk, M.; Pein, K.; Weinberger, N.; Krings, B.-J.; Woopen, C.
Bedarfe der Gesundheitsversorgung : Biografische und kulturelle Vielfalt beachten
2021. Deutsches Ärzteblatt <Köln> / C, 118 (42), A-1924 / B-1587 
Coenen, C.
Breaking the Spell of TINA – An Integrative Notion of Technical Progress
2021. Konfigurationen der Zeitlichkeit. Ed.: A. Friedrich, 318–323, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft. doi:10.5771/9783748910961-318
Coenen, C.
Transcending Natural Limitations: The Military–Industrial Complex and the Transhumanist Temptation
2021. Transhumanism: The Proper Guide to a Posthuman Condition or a Dangerous Idea?. Ed.: W. Hofkirchner, 97–110, Springer International Publishing. doi:10.1007/978-3-030-56546-6_6
Coenen, C.; Stieglitz, T.
Neurotech-Ethics: Suggestions for the Way Forward
2021. 2021 10th International IEEE/EMBS Conference on Neural Engineering (NER), 639–642, Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE). doi:10.1109/NER49283.2021.9441374
Heil, R.; Heyen, N. B.; Baumann, M.; Hüsing, B.; Bachlechner, D.; Schmoch, U.; König, H.
Artificial intelligence in human genomics and biomedicine - Dynamics, potentials and challenges
2021. Zeitschrift für Technikfolgenabschätzung in Theorie und Praxis, 30 (3), 30–36. doi:10.14512/tatup.30.3.30Full textFull text of the publication as PDF document
König, H.; Heyen, N. B.; Baumann, M.; Schmoch, U.; Bachlechner, D.; Heil, R.; Hüsing, B.
Künstliche Intelligenz in der genomischen Medizin – Potenziale und Handlungsbedarf
2021. Karlsruher Institut für Technologie (KIT). doi:10.5445/IR/1000130255Full textFull text of the publication as PDF document
Nierling, L.; Maia, M. J.; Bratan, T.
Technological or social drivers for a transformation towards an inclusive society? The role of Assistive Technologies for people with disabilities
2021. Gesellschaftliche Transformationen. Hrsg.: R. Lindner, 381–394, Nomos Verlagsgesellschaft. doi:10.5771/9783748901556-381
Weinberger, N.; Weis, A.; Pohlmann, S.; Brändle, C.; Zentek, T.; Ose, D.; Szecsenyi, J.
A New Method for Structured Integration of User Needs in Two Health Technology Development Projects: Action Sheets
2021. Informatics for health and social care, 46, 113–125. doi:10.1080/17538157.2020.1865968Full textFull text of the publication as PDF document