Moral responsibility in R&D networks

A procedural approach to distributing responsibilities

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The introduction of new technologies can be accompanied by risks and unforeseen side-effects, often with high impact. If no-one is responsible for addressing these risks and side-effects, the implementation of technologies might result in harmful consequences for society. It is therefore desirable that the prevention of these negative aspects of technology is already taken into account explicitly in Research and Development (R&D). However, even if most people would agree that the people working in R&D have a professional responsibility to address these issues, it is not clear who exactly should address it and how. Is it the the responsibility of the fundamental or applied researchers working in the laboratory or should it be delegated to the technology producers at the end of the chain? One of the problems with professional responsibility is that people have different views on responsibility and the question under what conditions one is responsible. This may ultimately lead to gaps in the distribution of responsibilities because people may expect someone else to assume the remaining responsibilities. This thesis discusses an alternative approach to distributing responsibilities. Rather than developing one substantive conception of the responsibility of professionals, a procedural approach for distributing responsibilities is developed. The idea behind this procedural approach is that people may agree on the procedure for distributing the responsibilities, even if they do not have the same substantive view on responsibility. The model is illustrated with a case study on a technological project concerning the development of an in-house monitoring system based on ambient technology.