01/09/2020

Austria’s new government to step up efforts for more technology assessment

"The programme of the Conservative and the Green parties emphasises the need for evidence-based policy when it comes to technology and innovation”, says ITA director Michael Nentwich.

The new federal government has a number of plans, especially in connection with digitalisation: Public digitalisation projects are to be independently evaluated for their technological consequences, as are those matters which, due to their potential risks, require increased regulation. Examples given include intelligent transport systems, self-propelled vehicles, assistance and guidance systems, etc.

The programme also mentions the ITA’s current study for the Austrian Parliament on 5G and health risks with regard to the next mobile phone generation: "Scientific findings, especially the technology assessment on 5G mobile radio and health commissioned by the Parliament"* should be considered.

Keeping ethics in mind

In a number of places there is also talk of ethical support for the introduction of technologies that will change our society forever. Autonomous vehicles, for example, are mentioned here. The term "ethics of digitalisation" and the terms "environmental impact assessment" and "impact assessment" as well as the "precautionary principle", which by definition are linked to technology assessment practices, are also mentioned.

Concrete topics for TA include the regulation of drones, digital sovereignty, data protection and privacy, "data protection and fundamental rights-friendly technology design" of the industry 4.0, the upgrading of the data protection authority and its provision with sufficient resources.

Need for discussion on artificial intelligence

The coalition goes on to acknowledge the importance of artificial intelligence beyond economic interests, and is committed to value the need for discussion in this context: "The promotion of AI development and application is carried out, among other things, under consideration of ethical principles (especially in the areas of data protection, privacy, and social impact).” It further states: "Ethical reflection must be an immanent part of Austrian AI policy and practice (human-centred AI). AI development must focus on human beings and their rights, for example with regard to the distinctiveness of human and machine and the protection of consumers". In this context, the new government also intends to commission "necessary studies on suitable design and application criteria for AI systems and algorithms as well as for the involvement of humans in such decision-making processes".

Finally, from a TA perspective the prevailing focus on environmental and sustainability criteria is to be welcomed, for example in connection with the goal of "green IT" in the federal administration, in the development of consumer products, or in the areas of mobility and energy.

By: Michael Nentwich

*[Note: all quotations in this post are translated by the ITA, as the original text is in German]