Rli: More effective preparation needed for technological innovations

Technology is changing society. Although new applications can be of great value, they can also encroach upon existing values. Government, citizens and the private sector must prepare for this, so that society can effectively anticipate the effects of technological innovations rather than being caught ‘off guard’. This is one of the conclusions reached by the Dutch Council for the Environment and Infrastructure (Raad voor de Leefomgeving en Infrastructuur, Rli) in its advisory report ‘Assessing the Value of Technology’, which was presented at 10 March 2017 to the Minister of Economic Affairs, the Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, and the Minister of the Interior and Kingdom Relations. The report offers recommendations on ways to reduce risks and make better use of the opportunities presented by technological innovations.

Anticipating new developments more effectively

The ongoing introduction of new technology applications like robots, autonomous vehicles, sharing platforms and Big Data is affecting society and the living environment. Technological development can be rapid and difficult to predict. We must examine the short- and longer-term impact of each new technology or application, and consider which public values are at stake. Rli’s advisory report ‘Assessing the Value of Technology’ presents a five-step analytical framework that allows stakeholders to anticipate the possible impact of technology applications more effectively.

Societal debate is key

Rli advocates a broad-based societal discussion about the choices to be made by government, the private sector and citizens. That debate is normative in nature because technology often raises new questions about the division of responsibilities, costs and returns, and can result in a realignment of values. Key questions include: Which values are at stake or may not be encroached upon? Which laws, regulations or contracts need to be amended, or kept in place unchanged? How does new technology affect the way people interact with each other? All these aspects influence how technology is developed and applied, the behaviour of the various actors, and how the markets will develop. To illustrate, the Council has examined three case studies: the milking robot, autonomous vehicles, and local generation of electricity using solar panels.

Experiments Act is desirable

The scope available for experimentation with specific technology applications is often created on an ad-hoc basis by amending the relevant regulations. The Council calls for a more generic legislative basis for these experiments. Such a uniform foundation would allow experiments to be conducted and evaluated more quickly and in a more systematic manner. This will create a favourable environment for technological development that takes into consideration the public values at stake and the interests of the parties involve