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 the six 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.
4TU.Ethics brings together the expertise of the three philosophy departments in the field of ethics of science, technology and engineering. The mission of 4TU.Ethics is:
- To stimulate and undertake interdisciplinary and applied research in the field of ethics and technology and fundamental research in ethics relevant for the field of ethics and technology;
- To stimulate and undertake activities in the field of teaching in ethics and technology;
- To act as an intermediary between the philosophy departments involved in 4TU.Ethics and the various stakeholders involved in ethical issues concerning technology: engineering practitioners, policy makers, and the general public.
The three participating departments are represented in the Centre on an equal basis. The positions of scientific director and managing director rotate between the departments. The Centre’s current scientific director is Prof. dr. ir. Anthonie Meijers and its current 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.