The 4TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology (4TU.Ethics) was founded in 2007 by the board of the federation of the three technical universities in the Netherlands (Delft, Eindhoven, and Twente) (www.4tu.nl) to study ethical issues in the development, use and regulation of technology. The board was motivated by the excellent performance of the philosophical research programmes of these three universities in the 1999-2004 research assessment. It is a clear sign of the importance attached by the 4TU.Federation to addressing ethical issues related to technology, and of the confidence the federation board has in these research groups, that among all the current Centres of Excellence of the 4TU.Federation, 4TU.Ethics is the only non-technical centre. Currently the Centre has over sixty senior and junior researchers as members, which makes 4TU.Ethics worldwide the major research centre addressing societally relevant and philosophically challenging issues at the interface between ethics and technology.
Since the inclusion of WUR at the start of 2018, 4TU.Ethics now brings together the expertise of the four philosophy departments of the 4TU.Federation member universities in the field of ethics of science, technology and engineering and we have worked to re-define our current vision and mission as a centre.
4TU.Ethics envisions a world in which technology is developed and used for benefit of humanity and the preservation of our planet. It is a world in which ethical considerations concerning human rights, well-being, global and inter-generational justice, the social good etc. are systematically included in practices of technology and engineering.
4TU.Ethics is a community of researchers that aims to stimulate and perform research in the field of ethics and technology, both fundamental and applied. We aim to address societal challenges in the context of a globalised and inter-connected world. Our goal is to advance understanding of ethical issues in engineering and technology development. 4TU.Ethics also aims to contribute to better practices in these areas, to innovate education in the ethics of technology, and to engage with societal stakeholders and public discussions about technology.
The four participating departments are represented in the Centre’s Management Team on equal terms, with the positions of scientific director, managing director and coordinator rotating between the departments. The Centre’s scientific director is Prof. dr. ir. Anthonie Meijers and its managing director is Dr. Tijn Borghuis.
Science and technology are of paramount social, political and economic importance in the 21st century. They are not only drivers of economic and social developments; they shape our societies, practices and institutions. In order to come to grips with science and technology and to make adequate and appropriate political and policy decisions regarding them, we need to reflect on the ethical aspects of their development, the moral acceptability of their application, and their contribution to the quality of life and well-being. It is now widely recognized that technologies must be developed and used responsibly, as many choices are involved with major implications for health and safety, environmental quality, civil liberties, social justice, and the quality of life.
It is relatively easy to embark on unfettered technological development. Many of the Asian new economies do so, but it is much harder to incorporate our considered moral values in research, design, development and production. Nevertheless the ability and knowledge to do so may be an important differentiator between mere clever technology and engineering and smart and responsible innovations. It is fitting for the three technical universities of the Netherlands, who are at the forefront of these developments internationally, to take up this responsibility by investing in research in the field of ethics of technology.
Education is important as well. Engineers and scientists are often confronted with ethical questions in their professional life. The knowledge and the technology they produce directly influence the well-being of individuals. This raises serious questions with regard to the responsibility, accountability and liability of engineers. The education of engineers should prepare them thoroughly and systematically for dealing with such ethical questions. This is reflected in the American ABET criteria for engineering curricula, as well as in the 4TU-criteria for academic bachelor and master curricula.
The bundling of forces in the field of ethics and technology in the 4TU.Centre for Ethics and Technology accommodates the increasing need for balanced, high quality and comprehensive reflection and judgment on moral, political and policy issues associated with science and technology.