Ernest Braun 1925-2015

The founder of Austrian technology assessment died on 3 March, only days before his 90th birthday.

The ITA mourns his founder, mentor and friend. Ernest (in German: Ernst) Braun was at the forefront of technology assessment in Europe and is regarded as the founder of TA in Austria. What started with a small working group at the Austrian Academy of Sciences was turned into an independent research unit shortly after.

Braun made sure to convey the spirit and basic assumptions of TA to his first collaborators, some of whom are still working at the ITA today. He was very much aware that technological and social development would go hand in hand. One of his major goals was therefore to bridge the gap between the world of science, politics and society. The ITA not only owes him its existence, but also its current standing and direction. He never stopped to offer us his counsel and advice, and still celebrated the 20th birthday of the ITA with us in June last year.

From Brno to Birmingham and Vienna

Ernest Braun was born on 9 March 1925 in Vienna as Czechoslovak citizen and was raised in the vicinity of Brno. He received his PhD in solid state physics in Bristol, UK and became a British citizen. Starting his professional career as industry researcher, he then decided to join academia. In 1967 he was appointed professor of physics at Aston University in Birmingham. From 1973 onwards he studied technology policy and subsequently also technology assessment. Together with Bill Williams and Michael Gibbons he established an inter-university research and teaching group under the name of “Science in a Social Context” (SISCON).

Upon his retirement from Aston University in 1984 he returned to Vienna and became visiting professor at the TU Vienna and the University of Vienna. He brought his experiences from his time in Great Britain with him and successfully directed at first a TA working group and from 1988 the newly funded Technology Assessment Unit (FTB) at the Austrian Academy of Sciences. The ITA was the successor of FTB.

Braun returned to England in 1991 and served as a guest professor at Open University in Milton Keynes for some years before he finally retired. During his fruitful academic life he wrote many articles and a series of books. Among his most well-known publications are „Futile Progress“ (1995) and „Technology in Context“ (1998). His last book appeared only in summer 2010: „From Need to Greed. The Changing Role of Technology in Society“.

During his last years, Ernest Braun lived in Bruckneudorf near Vienna, where he died on 3 March from pneumonia. He was married with the Viennese painter Doris (neé Luttenberger), his two daughters live in Great Britain.

By: Michael Nentwich

A European pioneer of social studies in science and technology, Ernest Braun is regarded as the founder of technology assessment in Austria. This photo was taken on the occasion of his 88th birthday. (Photo: Michael Nentwich)