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ASU researcher explores responsible innovation

Posted February 17, 2014

An engineer works in the lab on a promising research project. He follows all the rules, works with the materials available to him and produces quality work. He never lies, cheats or steals. His research eventually results in a new technological innovation. Everybody wins.

But five or 10 years down the road, a byproduct of that new technology proves to be harmful to the environment. What if this unintended consequence could have been easily avoided had the engineer made a simple change in his research process?

While it may be difficult to foresee, the work of scientists and engineers often has a societal impact. Arizona State University professor Erik Fisher is interested in helping them think about these impacts before it’s too late.

Fisher leads a project called Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR), which includes studies of 30 labs in three different countries to see how responsible innovation can best be achieved. He presented his research today (February 15) at the annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Chicago.

While “socio-technical integration” is a new way of doing science that may take some getting used to, it could make a big difference for the impact of future research on society. There are consequences for failing to take humanistic concerns into consideration.

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