Aligning Innovation and Ethics: an Approach to Responsible Innovation Based on Preference Learning

Philosophy of Management 19 (3):349-364 (2020)
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Abstract

New technologies not only contribute greatly to society and the economy; they also involve fundamental societal shifts, challenging our values and ideas about ourselves and the world. With a view to aligning technological change and innovation with ethical values, the concept of responsible innovation advocates the inclusion of a variety of stakeholders, in particular from society. In shifting moral responsibility towards the producers of innovations, responsible innovation rejects the standard normative economic view that the ethical evaluation of innovations is a matter of individual consumers’ market-based choices. However, in this article we argue that responsible innovation should not abandon all normative consideration of the individual outright, to which end we present an alternative normative economic approach based on preference learning. We show how this approach can provide an enhanced understanding of responsible innovation by clarifying the redistribution of moral responsibility and casting individuals in the normative role of co-innovators, rather than mere consumers. We argue that responsible innovation should enable individuals to form preferences and evaluate innovations, so as to align innovation with ethical demands. Finally, we show how our proposed approach can be put into practice in so-called laboratories in real-world contexts, using methods from the field of design. In short, drawing on normative economics, this article aims to establish a new understanding of responsible innovation that is conceptually sound and can form the basis for novel innovation practices.

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