Exploring the philosophy and ethics of technology

DCU research explores the ethics associated with the biological factors in contemporary global manufacturing

Paper examines the concept of “the biologicalisation” of manufacturing

While digitalisation continues to sweep across the globe, new technological frontiers are emerging at pace. The concept of the “biologicalisation of manufacturing” commonly referred to as the fourth industrial revolution, is at the forefront of this new wave. 

Ethical questions

Academics from the Institute of Ethics at DCU’s School of Theology, Philosophy and Music teamed up with fellow experts at Biodesign Europe and the Fraunhofer to launch a new research paper which not only highlights the significant potential of the “biologicalisation” of global manufacturing - but also considers the ethical questions that arise from it, pointing out the need for further research and analysis in order to contribute to policy on overall best practice.

The paper explores the ethical challenges associated with biologicalisation, focussing on how we might understand biologicalisation, the goals associated with it and the myriad ethical questions that arise in relation to it.

Commenting on the research paper Dr Fiachra O’Brolcháin from DCU's Institute of Ethics said, "The biologicalisation of manufacturing is an extremely exciting technological revolution that holds great potential for industry, business, and society at large. For instance, scientists have, using the lotus leaf as inspiration, created self-cleaning surfaces.  Such developments are extremely useful in and of themselves and their widespread use may help humanity reduce its impact on the natural environment.  Of course, any new suite of technologies poses ethical dilemmas. It’s been fascinating to explore these and this paper provides a preliminary sketch of the areas of concern. Addressing these dilemmas is not a challenge to such innovations, but can help ensure that the risks of novel technological developments are minimised and their benefits maximised."

Transparency is key

The authors pointed out that transparency in decision-making, public policy and legislation associated with manufacturing and crucially building trust with the public are vital, particularly in light of the fact that trust in public institutions and other entities, commonly regarded as pillars of society, has shown a marked decline in recent years. 

Best practice depends on cross disciplinary engagement

The research recommended further work to examine biologicalisation in manufacturing along the full ethical spectrum; a cross-disciplinary approach whereby engineers, scientists and technologists engage with philosophers to explore the subject in greater depth; deeper analysis to inform best practice in this field while the existing bank of knowledge in this area can also be adapted and modified to contribute to contemporary discussions.

Lead authors

Lead authors on this research paper included Dr Fiachra O’Brolcháin, Prof Bert Gordijn (Institute of Ethics, DCU’s School of Theology, Philosophy and Music), Prof Nicholas Dunne, Executive Director Biodesign Europe and Prof Gerry Byrne (UCD & Fraunhofer)

What is biologicalisation?

The phrase refers to the use and merging of biological and biologically inspired principles in materials, structures, functions and the resources used for intelligent and sustainable manufacturing technologies and systems.

Publication details 

Ethical Aspects of the Biologicalisation of Manufacturing: Authors Fiachra O’Brolcháin* (1), Bert Gordijn (1), Gerry Byrne (2) & Nicholas Dunne (3). Institutions (1) Institute of Ethics, School of Theology, Philosophy and Music, Dublin City University (2) SFI-Form Centre, School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, University College Dublin (3) Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (I-Form), School of Mechanical and Manufacturing Engineering, Dublin City University & Advanced Materials and Bioengineering Research Centre (AMBER), Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland and Trinity College Dublin.