The research program that currently sets the framework for research activities at the institute is called “Which future? Challenges and choices for the 21st century” (2015-2020). The following is a summary of the research program’s five main themes.
Which future? Challenges and choices for the 21st century
The research program comprises five themes that overlap. They are all interdisciplinary and will involve researchers from several disciplines, including philosophy, political science, sociology, law, computer science, economics and demographics. The intention is to produce policy-relevant results by combining theoretical ideas with empirically oriented research.
I. Our responsibility towards future generations
One of the key insights that we have gained over the past hundred years, is that what the present generation do can have major effects on many generations to come. This raises urgent questions about our duties towards future generations and of justice over generations.
Earlier theories on justice and moral principles do not take into account that today’s actions can affect not only future people’s living conditions, but also the number of people and who these people will be. We therefore need to develop our theories of morality and justice so that they can take these aspects into account in a way that feels acceptable to us.
The aim of the theme is to find reasonable answers to questions about what our duties towards future generations could be and how we should evaluate future lives and living conditions when making policies.
II. Democracy in the 21st Century
Democracy has gained ground in many parts of the world the past thirty years. At the same time, there is reason to talk about a crisis of democracy’s position as the best form of governance. Companies and supranational organizations seem to increase their power at the expense of democratically elected governments, voters in several established democracies are unhappy with the democratic process and the way democracy works today it doesn’t consider all those who may be affected by the decisions taken.
This theme will therefore raise questions about the scope and limits of democratic governance, the so-called boundary problem. What decisions should be made democratically? Should there be an “ombudsman” for future generations? Should democracy be applied globally? The question of who should have the right to vote on what has arisen on several occasions in recent times, for example in connection with the referendum on congestion charges in Stockholm and with the referendum on independence in Scotland.
The boundary problem and its related practical political problems show the importance of reconsidering the ideas of democratic principles and the way they should be understood and applied. This opens up exciting new ways to understand democracy that has implications for how we are to develop democracy for the future.
III. New technologies and the future of humanity
The technological development in the 1900s advanced at an unprecedented pace and it is likely that the development in the 2000s will affect our way of life even more. Examples of areas where future technology could significantly affect the biological conditions for human physical, cognitive and affective abilities (called human enhancement) are synthetic biology, robotics and artificial intelligence (AI), nanotechnology, advanced surveillance technology and geotechnical engineering.
Several of these technologies are likely to produce major benefits for humanity in terms of wealth, but they also involve potential risks. How should we assess these risks? How can we even approach the question when we can never predict either technological development or its implications?
There are two main questions in this theme; first, what areas of research in science, technology and medicine should we prioritize in order to avoid the worst outcome, second, how can we make the best use of the tools available in the form of, for example, risk management and scenario planning, to increase our understanding of how we should weigh the potential risks against the potential opportunities.
IV. Discrimination, sexism and racism
This theme is about studying what discrimination mechanisms look like and how our implicit beliefs can affect prejudices and stereotypes.
Typical problems that will be explored are how concepts such as “gender,” “race” and “ethnicity” should be understood and what their relevance are. Should the state, for example, be “color blind” and totally ignore “race” in the shaping of policies, or should we consider “race” as a social construction that can play an equally large role in people’s lives, such as money?
Another area concerns “implicit cognition”, that is how our ideas about various phenomena affect and are affected by our behavior. What causes and reproduces explicit biases and stereotypes in interaction with the implicit? What responsibility do individuals have for implicit cognitive processes?
The theme also includes the question of whether affirmative action is really consistent with the idea that everyone should be equal.
Social and economic equality is a value promoted in many political contexts. However, it is unclear what they mean, how to measure them and how they should be prioritized in relation to other goals. The purpose of this theme is to investigate a range of issues concerning both equality and related concepts.
The education system is considered vital for the creation of an egalitarian society, and the goal is to be achieved through an education based on scientific grounds. However there is little knowledge on what “based on scientific grounds” actually means, and therefor even less knowledge on whether the school system manages to achieve this goal or not.
Social and economic equality are also to be achieved through work, but as the proportion of the population with no prospects of stable full-time employment increases, this idea is being questioned. The increasing automation, which contributes to a skewed distribution of the gains, adds to the problem. A contribution to this discussion is the idea of a general basic income, which in turn raises both moral and practical issues.
Equality is also related to poverty. How should poverty be defined, what poverty level is acceptable and what are the actual consequences of poverty?