What Future? Which Technology? On the Problem of Describing Relevant Futures

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Doing research on future and emerging technologies raises a number of significant ontological and epistemological challenges. The fundamental uncertainty of the future, combined with problems of appropriate descriptions of tech nology in general, render it difficult to come to an appropriate account of the likely shape and use of future technologies. This paper discusses several streams of research that address this issue, including the question of relevant description and context, interpretive flexibility, affordances of technology, and multi-stability of technological trajectories. The paper proposes that some of these problems may be addressed by using a democratic and participative approach to technology research and development. Participative technology assessment is then discussed as an example of an established way of democratically engaging with technology stakeholders during research and development. The paper concludes by discussing the promises and limitations of such a participative approach with regard to the question of understanding and researching future technologies.