The Ethics of Disruptive Technologies

4TU.Ethics Bi-annual Conference, 7th- 8th November 2019

Call for Papers on the Ethics of Disruptive Technologies – deadline for abstracts 1st July 2019

Confirmed Keynote Speakers include:  Catriona McKinnon, University of Reading and Tamar Sharon, Radboud University

Description of the conference theme:

Throughout history, technology has been a driver of social change. The technologies of the industrial revolution played a crucial role in shaping modern society, and society has since then continued to be shaped by technological innovations. The conference focuses on technologies that will not just change specific domains or practices for which they were designed, but that will change our life in a much broader sense. They are called socially disruptive technologies (SDTs). SDTs transform everyday life, social institutions, cultural practices, and the organisation of the economy, business, and work. They may even affect our fundamental beliefs, rights, and values. Historical examples of such technologies include the printing press, the steam engine, electric lighting, the computer, and the Internet. Modern examples include digital technologies, bio- and brain technologies, and environmental and sustainable technologies.

The new generation of SDTs has a number of characteristics. First, it promises almost complete control over atoms, bits, genes, and neurons, allowing for everything to be reconstituted or redesigned, including human beings. Second, it is characterised by a convergence of technologies that is blurring the lines between the physical, digital, and biological spheres, resulting in new technologies at the intersection of information technology, biotechnology/biomedicine, nanotechnology, and neuroscience/cognitive science, such as synthetic biology and brain-computer interfaces. Finally, these technologies emerge in the context of a number of grand societal challenges, such as combating climate change and meeting the UN Sustainable Developments Goals (SDGs), which will actually require a range of technological and societal trans­formations.

The stakes are high. These new SDTs could bring great benefits to our society: opening up new medical perspectives, enabling new forms of political participation, or contributing to the solution of our sustainability problems. But they could also bring great harm if not properly developed and implemented (Jasanoff, 2016). They could curtail our autonomy and privacy, damage our ecology, and exacerbate divisions and inequalities in society. That is why normative frameworks are so important: which values and normative principles should guide their development and introduction, and which benefits do we want for individuals and society?

Few will contest that novel technologies raise ethical questions that require ethical reflection and guidance. But a key problem in the case of SDTs is that these technologies are also challenging the very concepts and values that we normally appeal to in our ethical thinking.

There are three sub-themes of the conference. Each of these sub-themes focuses on a number of key concepts that are being challenged by these socially disruptive technologies.

  1. The Human Condition: concepts that are basic to our moral self-understanding, such as (moral) agency, autonomy, human interdependence, and responsibility;
  2. The Future of a Free and Fair Society: concepts that form the basis of our political, social and legal institutions, such as democracy, public and private, justice, and equality;
  3. Nature, Life and Human Intervention: concepts and distinctions that we use to order our world: such as distinctions between natural and artificial, humans and machines, and agents and physical systems.

Conference paper presentations and submission of abstracts:


The format of the conference is as follows:

There are keynote speakers and presentations of papers in parallel sessions. Each session will have a 20-30 minutes presentation, followed by 10-15 minutes of discussion. In addition there will be poster sessions.

Senior and junior researchers working in the field are invited to submit abstracts for the conference. Abstracts should be 500 words, excluding a short bibliography. These abstracts will be evaluated by the programme committee of the conference. Decisions will be made before the end of June. Papers that are not accepted for a parallel session may be presented as a poster.

Taskforces of 4TU.Ethics and others are invited to submit a special session proposal for the conference, with 3-4 presentations on a particular theme.

As part of the conference we explicitly want to invite contributions that present ethical issues related to technology in innovative ways (visual or multimedia). Proposals should also follow the 500 words abstract format, with a description of the type of presentation involved.

Abstracts can be submitted at the following website:

If you have not worked with the easychair system before, please first register by creating your own personal account and then you will be able to enter the 4TU.Ethics Conference area as an author and submit your abstract.


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