Printed: 2019-08-25

Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies

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What is a Technoprogressive?

Mike Treder

Ethical Technology

March 21, 2009

What do technoprogressives want? Who are they? What does the word mean? Is it a political party, a club for geeks, both, or neither?

Let’s find out!

Wikipedia says:

Technoprogressivism (a portmanteau combining “technoscience-focused” and “progressivism”) is a stance of active support for the convergence of technological change and social change. Technoprogressives argue that technological developments can be profoundly empowering and emancipatory when they are regulated by legitimate democratic and accountable authorities to ensure that their costs, risks and benefits are all fairly shared by the actual stakeholders to those developments.

Technoprogressivism maintains that accounts of “progress” should focus on scientific and technical dimensions, as well as ethical and social ones. For most technoprogressive perspectives, then, the growth of scientific knowledge or the accumulation of technological powers will not represent the achievement of proper progress unless and until it is accompanied by a just distribution of the costs, risks, and benefits of these new knowledges and capacities. At the same time, for most technoprogressive critics and advocates, the achievement of better democracy, greater fairness, less violence, and a wider rights culture are all desirable, but inadequate in themselves to confront the quandaries of contemporary technological societies unless and until they are accompanied by progress in science and technology to support and implement these values.

Strong technoprogressive positions include support for the civil right of a person to either maintain or modify his or her own mind and body, on his or her own terms, through informed, consensual recourse to, or refusal of, available therapeutic or enabling biomedical technology.

That’s a good definition, one that we’re mostly satisfied with here at the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. We regard technoprogressivism as the socio-political position most likely to be taken by people associated with or supportive of the IEET (click here for detailed policy positions). If the description above seems to describe your own attitudes, then you too might be a technoprogressive.

A slightly different way to look at the word is to regard it as a portmanteau of “technology aware” and “politically progressive.” Consider these definitions:

Technology Aware—Follows trends in emerging technologies; often eager to acquire and master newest gadgets; knows history of technology development and cultural integration; recognizes necessity for caution and responsibility.

Politically Progressive—Follows trends in emerging politics, both national and global; supports better democracy, greater fairness, less violence, and wider rights; enjoys learning about and sometimes participating in political action; knows history of political development and cultural integration; recognizes necessity for caution and responsibility.

And let’s add one more definition that will help sort things out:

Transhumanist—Supports the use of science and technology to improve human physical and mental characteristics and capacities; regards aspects of the human condition, such as disability, suffering, disease, aging, and involuntary death as unnecessary and undesirable; looks to biotechnologies and other emerging technologies for these purposes; may believe that humans eventually will be able to transform themselves into beings with such greatly expanded abilities as to merit the label “posthuman.”

Now, to see where and how technoprogressives fit in, look at this diagram:

Okay, the big blue circle is everyone who is politically progressive. The lavender circle is people who are technology aware. As you can see, there is a significant overlap, but not everyone who is progressive is technology aware, and not everyone who is technology aware is progressive.

(Note: we’re not suggesting these images are to scale; the relative sizes are approximate at best, and may bear little relation to actual demographics.)

The smaller green circle is everyone who is a technoprogressive. All technoprogressives are both techno-aware and progressive, but it doesn’t work the other way around. Not all progressives are technoprogressive, and not all techno-aware people are technoprogressive. 

Finally, transhumanists. Not all of them are progressive or technoprogressive, although some are. A high percentage are techno-aware, but not all.

Where would you place yourself?

Mike Treder is a former Managing Director of the IEET.


Contact: Executive Director, Dr. James J. Hughes,
IEET, 35 Harbor Point Blvd, #404, Boston, MA 02125-3242 USA
phone: 860-428-1837