Technology and Sustainable Development : The Promise and Pitfalls of Techno-Solutionism book cover
1st Edition

Technology and Sustainable Development
The Promise and Pitfalls of Techno-Solutionism

  • Available for pre-order on March 22, 2023. Item will ship after April 12, 2023
ISBN 9781032350561
April 12, 2023 Forthcoming by Routledge
312 Pages 13 B/W Illustrations

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USD $54.95

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Book Description

Technological change is at the core of all major disruptions in human history, and revolutions, wars, and general development are regularly connected to some sort of technological change. However, not all development is beneficial. While technology has fuelled great innovations and rapid development, the notion of sustainable development has gained prominence as we now experience serious social, economic, and environmental challenges.

This book examines whether technology can be used to fix the very problems caused by technology, as the various chapters examine different aspects related to how technology has brought us where we are today (which some will say is the best place humanity’s been at according to a range of metrics), and whether technology helps or hinders us in our efforts to solve the challenges we currently face. The issues discussed cover the three sustainability dimensions and include topics such as the materiality of AI, technology in education, AI for gender equality, innovation and the digital divide, and how technology relates to power, the political system, and capitalism. The chapters all build on the theoretical backdrop of technological change, sustainable development, and the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals are actively used throughout the book, both to examine how these goals capture or overlook central elements of sustainable development, and also to facilitate and create a common framework of engagement between the chapters.

The book provides a novel combination of traditional theories that are explored through different case studies, providing the ground for a better understanding of how and when technology can – and cannot – be the enabler of sustainable development. It is thus an important resource for students of all disciplines, technologists, and those developing and applying new technologies. It is also a valuable resource for politicians and regulators attempting to harness the power of technology for good, while limiting its negative potential.

The Open Access version of this book, available at, has been made available under a Creative Commons [Attribution-Non Commercial-No Derivatives (CC-BY-NC-ND)] 4.0 license. Funded by Østfold University College.

Table of Contents

1. Introduction: The Promise and Pitfalls of Techno-Solutionism

Henrik Skaug Sætra.

2. Key concepts: Technology and Sustainable Development

Henrik Skaug Sætra.

3. Artifical Intelligence, Artificial Solutions: Placing The Climate Emergency At The Centre Of AI Developments

Benedetta Brevini.

4. Sustainable Climate Engineering Innovation and the Need for Accountability

Marianna Capasso and Steven Umbrello.

5. Shinigami Eyes and Social Media Labelling as a Technology for Self-Care

Henrik Skaug Sætra and Jo Ese.

6. Lessons to be Learnt? Education, Techno-Solutionism, and Sustainable Development

Neil Selwyn.

7. Virtual Reality and Autism

Anders Dechsling and Anders Nordahl-Hansen.

8. The Technologically Sustained Digital Divide

Erlend Ingridsønn Nordrum.

9. Spot on SDG 5: Addressing Gender (In-)equality Within and With AI

Hanan Salam and Marisa Tschopp.

10. A Legal Sustainability Approach to Align the Order of Rules and Actions in the Context of Digital Innovation

E. Fosch-Villaronga, H. Drukarch, and M. Giraudo.

11. Governing Towards Sustainable Development: From a Path-Dependent Transition to a Disruptive One

Lilja Mósesdóttir and Ivar Jonsson.

12. Capitalism, Sustainability and Democracy

Harald Borgebund.

13. Nudging Policy, or Crowding it Out? Green Nudges as Ideational Technologies

Stuart Mills and Richard Whittle.

14. The Fallacy of Disruptive Technologies and the Primacy of Politics: Sustainable Development Goals as an Example

Imad Antoine Ibrahim.

15. Technology and the Distribution of Power

Faridun Sattarov.

16. What Does Data Valuation Literature Tell Us About Methods and Dimensions? Implications for City Data Marketplaces

Petter Kvalvik, Mary Sánchez-Gordón, and Ricardo Colomo-Palacios.

17. Techno-Solutionism in the Era of Post-Liberal Oligarchic Capitalism

Ivar Jonsson and Lilja Mósesdóttir.

18. The Role of Technology in Alternatives to Growth-Based Sustainable Development

Henrik Skaug Sætra.

19. Conclusion: The Promise and Pitfalls of Techno-Solutionism for Sustainable Development

Henrik Skaug Sætra.

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Henrik Skaug Sætra is a political scientist with a broad and inter-disciplinary background and approach, mainly focusing on the political, ethical, and social implications of technology. He focuses specifically on the sustainability related impacts of AI, and has previously published a book and several articles on AI and the UN Sustainable Development Goals.


The widely celebrated benefits of technological development during the past two centuries are now overshadowed by evidence of grave troubles in society, economics, politics, and Earth’s climate, ones often delivered, alas, by the very same set of technical wonders. How are we to think about these astonishing contrasts? The writings gathered in this collection offer rigorous, insightful methods for exploring the major challenges that vex world society today. A treasure chest of theories and case histories, the book offers sustenance for all of those seeking fruitful alternatives.

    --Langdon Winner, Professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, author of Autonomous Technology: Technics-out-of-control as a theme in political though, and The whale and the reactor: A search for limits in an age of high technology.

    An interesting collection of chapters that reflect on the role of technology vis-à-vis sustainable development. Highly relevant against the backdrop of the imminent risks created by climate change, and rightly critical of technosolutionist approaches, the contributions to this volume helpfully highlight the political aspects of this challenging conundrum. Not to be missed.

    --Mark Coeckelbergh, Professor at the University of Vienna, author of AI Ethics, Green Leviathan, and The Political Philosophy of AI.