Types of Technological Innovation in the Face of Uncertainty

Philosophy and Technology 35 (4):1-17 (2022)
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Technological innovation is almost always investigated from an economic perspective; with few exceptions, the specific technological and social nature of innovation is often ignored. We argue that a novel way to characterise and make sense of different types of technological innovation is to start considering uncertainty. This seems plausible since technological development and innovation almost always occur under conditions of uncertainty. We rely on the distinction between, on the one hand, uncertainty that can be quantified (e.g. probabilistic risk) and, on the other, deep forms of uncertainty that may resist the possibility of being quantified (e.g. severe or fundamental uncertainties). On the basis of these different ingredients of uncertainty in technological innovation, we propose a new taxonomy that reveals the technological nature of innovation. Unlike previous taxonomies employed to handle different types of technological innovations, our taxonomy does not consider the economic value of innovation alone; it is much more oriented towards societal preferences and forms of technological uncertainty. Finally, we investigate the coherence of our proposal with the dual nature of technological artefacts, showing that innovation can be grounded on structural and functional factors and not just on economic ones.

Author Profiles

Daniele Chiffi
Politecnico di Milano
Luca Zanetti
Scuola Universitaria Superiore IUSS Pavia
Stefano Moroni
Politecnico di Milano


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