Making science communication material – a case study of the cyborg project at NTNU

In this project, we explore research dissemination and public engagement in the cyborg project at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU): https://www.ntnu.edu/cyborg

In the cyborg project, human neurons are used as components in robotics, creating a hybrid between human and machine, or a cyborg. This technology can contribute to progress in several different technological fields. Neural networks are faster and more energy efficient than our best transistor based computers and exploring the use of neurological components in robotics can therefore contribute to the development of next generation computing. By creating interfaces between traditional electric components and neurological components, the project also contributes to the development of medical technologies like prostheses and synthetic organs.

This type of technology is of great interest to society, not only because of the benefits it can bring, but also because people might have ethical and societal concerns. In the perspective of Responsible Research and Innovation, we are interested in, among other things, how the gap between research and society can be bridged. By allowing for democratization of the research and innovation process, citizens can present their concerns and give input to scientists before and during the technological development, so that the results fit better with the needs and values of society.

The cyborg project is special in that it gives basic research a material expression in the form of a cyborg. Our hypothesis is that this has the potential to generate attention, and to trigger other debates than if the research is presented without this material expression. We will seek to gain understanding of such issues by conducting experiments where we put researchers and lay people together in workshops where we vary how the technology is presented (i.e. with a focus on the cyborg versus the basic research). In our research, we want to explore the potential benefits and disadvantages of such different approaches to research communication.

The project runs in the period March 2018 until May 2020 and was a response to the Research Council of Norway’s call FORSKKOMM.

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