Ibo van de Poel et al.

Published On


Page Range

pp. 11–32


  • English

Print Length

22 pages

1: Introduction

Technologies have all kinds of impacts, on the environment, on human behavior, on our society and on what we believe and value. But some technologies are not just impactful, they are also socially disruptive: they challenge existing institutions, social practices, beliefs and conceptual categories. Here we are particularly interested in technologies that disrupt existing concepts, for example because they lead to profound uncertainty about how to classify matters. Is a humanoid robot - which looks and even acts like a human - to be classified as a person, or is it just an inert machine? Conceptual disruption occurs when the meaning of concepts is challenged, and it may potentially lead to a revision of concepts. We illustrate how technologies can be conceptually disruptive through a range of examples, and we argue for an intercultural outlook in studying socially disruptive technologies and conceptual disruption. Such an outlook is needed to avoid a Western bias in calling technologies socially or conceptually disruptive, and it takes inspiration from a broad range of philosophical traditions.


Ibo van de Poel

Professor in Ethics and Technology at the Faculty of Technology, Policy and Management at Technische Universiteit Delft

Ibo van de Poel is a Professor in Ethics of Technology at TU Delft. His research focuses on values, technology and design and how values, and related concepts, that address ethical issues in technology (can) change over time. ORCID: 0000-0002-9553-5651

Jeroen Hopster

Assistant Professor of Ethics at Utrecht University

Jeroen Hopster is an Assistant Professor of Ethics at Utrecht University. His research centers on climate ethics and on investigating the nature of socially disruptive technologies. ORCID: 0000-0001-9239-3048

Guido Löhr

Assistant Professor of Logic and AI at Vrije University Amsterdam

Guido Löhr is an Assistant Professor of Logic and AI at Vrije University Amsterdam. They work on various topics in philosophy of language, social ontology and philosophy of technology with a focus on concepts. ORCID: 0000-0002-7028-3515

Elena Ziliotti

Assistant Professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy at Technische Universiteit Delft

Elena Ziliotti is an Assistant Professor of Ethics and Political Philosophy at TU Delft. Her research focuses on Western democratic theory and Comparative democratic theory, with a particular focus on contemporary Confucian political theory. ORCID: 0000-0002-8929-9728

Stefan Buijsman

Assistant Professor at Technische Universiteit Delft

Stefan Buijsman is an Assistant Professor at TU Delft and works on explainable AI and related epistemic challenges to responsible AI. ORCID: 0000-0002-0004-0681

Philip Brey

Professor in philosophy and ethics of technology at University of Twente

Philip Brey is a Professor in philosophy and ethics of technology at the University of Twente and leader of the ESDiT programme. His research is in general ethics of technology, in which he investigates new approaches for ethical assessment, guidance and design of emerging technologies, and in ethics of digital technologies, with a focus on AI, robotics, internet, virtual reality and the metaverse. ORCID: 0000-0002-4789-4588.