Written by Lieve Van Woensel with Victoria Joseph,
The Science and Technology Options Assessment (STOA) Panel aims to provide the European Parliament with information about techno-scientific advances and to support the Parliament’s Members with evidence so that they can anticipate the possible future impact of these developments. To do this, and to prepare the ground for future STOA studies, STOA needs to explore a range of policy areas and anticipate future developments in relevant technologies. There are, however, areas that have not yet been analysed in sufficient detail, and this study on horizon scanning and analysis of techno-scientific trends aims at addressing this gap, by showing how to identify such areas. This could support strategic decision-making and inspire thinking processes for planning and executing STOA activities.
The study, in two parts, was conducted by experts in the use of data-analytics and covers:
- a horizon scan of ‘trendy’ techno-scientific topics, combined with a controversy analysis between the stakeholders involved in these topics; and
- an in-depth analysis of eight trending topics, to get an insight into the different perspectives, perceptions and viewpoints of the diverse stakeholders involved in the technology, its applications and its consequences.
Horizon scanning gives an overall view of the techno-scientific landscape, to support the development of strategies for anticipating future advances. The controversy analysis drew on three factors: intra-topic controversy, inter-stakeholder controversy, and topic activity. Algorithms used in this study distinguish between the following stakeholder groups: academia; industry; expert institutions; media; non-corporate interests; private persons; and individual experts. The horizon scanning process explored big data sets gathered from social media sources (Twitter) and news articles, to identify topics with a high presence. A scan then measured controversy on social media for 24 technology-related topics, selected, based on experience and intuition, for their inherent policy interest. A subset of relatively highly controversial topics among stakeholders were identified, and five selected because they had not been investigated in-depth by STOA in the past. These topics are:
- big data;
- gene technology;
- electric vehicles;
- autonomous cars;
- impact of algorithms.
The experts used different data analysis methods, combining artificial intelligence-based and human-based methods to collect and analyse news articles and tweets.
Three other trending topics with a potential high impact on society and high STOA relevance were added to the list for in-depth analysis, because of known MEP interest, general topical interest or the possible need for urgent action. These are:
- screen addiction;
- fake news, especially in connection with disrespect for evidence and misinformation regarding science and technology;
Following the initial horizon scan and the controversy analysis, the experts conducted an in-depth analysis on the eight selected topics to detect key areas of interest for the topic and better understand stakeholder and public sentiment, as reflected in social media (Twitter) and news articles.
The study presents a number of visualisations of the in-depth analysis, demonstrating a variety of key aspects: the subtopics that emerge from each trending topic; the issues discussed within the topic; trending geographical locations; applications of the respective technology; and stakeholder-specific information. It also demonstrates the level of positive and negative sentiment on social media and the key issues giving rise to these sentiments. Ultimately, this provides an idea of the public and stakeholders’ main expectations and concerns, in relation to each trending topic.
Please feel free to tell us what important technological developments you see that might have a significant impact on the way we live in the future, and that European policy-makers should know about, by leaving a comment below or filling in our feedback questionnaire.