On 11 March 2019, Nanyang Technological University launched a new initiative to respond to the so-called ’fourth industrial revolution’ (4IR). The Singapore-based institute has been named the NTU Institute of Science and Technology for Humanity (NISTH). NISTH’s ambition, according to NTU’s President, Professor Subra Suresh (former director of the US National Science Foundation), is to synergize and coordinate the unique strengths of technology, social institutions, and human behavior in a world-leading, multi-disciplinary forum. The vision, set out in his address to an expert roundtable preceding the launch, is that NISTH should be a space for dialogue, discussion, and research as the 4IR radically transforms society now and in the future. Fostering conversations across government, academia, NGOs, and the private sector, the Institute aims to develop ideas and concepts for the prudent and ethical development of technology for the betterment of the human condition.
NISTH will be led by Professor Vanessa Evers, an expert in human-computer and human-robot interaction, who joined NTU from the University of Twente in 2019. Evers will be supported by a team of STS scholars including Hallam Stevens (EASTS editor), Ian McGongile, Shirley Sun, Monamie Bhadra Haines, and Sheila Jasanoff (a member of NISTH’s international advisory board and a senior editor of EASTS).
The interdisciplinary conversations have already begun, with a symposium convened by NISTH in August 2019 on the topic of ’Interrogating Innovation’ (https://hal2lam.wixsite.com/innovation/). Innovation is considered to be a critical driver of the 4IR and often taken to be an unequivocal good. However, emerging scholarship in the humanities and social sciences has begun to take a more critical look at innovation, its sources, and its effects. The NISTH symposium brought together leading scholars in this nascent field from Europe, Asia, and North America to think critically about where, in what contexts, how, and why different sorts of innovation occur. What is called ’innovation’ and what is not, and by whom? How might innovation look different in India, or Turkey, Singapore, China, or Indonesia? These are exactly the kinds of cross-disciplinary and transnational conversations that NISTH aims to foster.
It is hugely encouraging that this pioneering step forward comes from a technical university in postcolonial Asia, led by scientists and engineers who respect society’s role in steering science and technology. Several decades of STS research have made enormous headway in clarifying the relationships between science and technology and the societies that produce, use, and influence them. It is heartening to see the field gain more prominence and resources within tertiary institutions in Asia. We are optimistic that NISTH’s bold initiative will offer an opportunity for STS scholars to share the insights that the field has generated over the past decades. More information about the Institute can be found at http://nisth.ntu.edu.sg/Pages/default.aspx.