The goal of this paper by Ron Sandler of Northeastern University is to clearly place social and ethical issues within ongoing debates on the responsible development of nanotechnologies. The paper presents a broad framework to structure the analysis and discussion of ethical issues, which builds on improving our understanding of the social, cultural, and moral context of emerging technologies and assessing the status of these issues as the technologies evolve.
The author takes on some of the common misconceptions that undermine our ability to address social and ethical issues early and effectively, such as the “it’s too early to discuss ethics” excuse and the tendency to frame new technologies in terms of their inevitability (and inevitable good). The paper highlights, through theory and research linked to case studies, a wide variety of possible social and ethical issues linked to emerging nanotechnologies, ranging from environmental justice to human enhancement and the myth of the techno-fix—our tendency to favor technological fixes to problems rather than behavioral changes or other major shifts. Indeed, the framework outlined in this paper can be applied to a wide variety of emerging technologies. this paper will provide a framework for thinking through some of those impacts.
The purpose of this report is to describe the salience of these issues and to draw attention to them by articulating what they are, why they matter and what is involved in addressing them. To this end, the report:
- identifies the crucial roles of ethics in responsible development of technology;
- dispels common misconceptions about the social and ethical issues associated with emerging nanotechnologies;
- provides a typology of the social and ethical issues associated with emerging nanotechnologies and identifies several issues within each type;
- discusses in detail one paradigmatic issue of each type to illustrate significant features of the issues within the type; and
- emphasizes how social and ethical issues intersect with government functions and responsibilities.
This is a report on the ethical issues associated with emerging nanotechnologies, broadly construed to include goals, opportunities, complications, barriers and limits. It is not a report on the ethical implications of nanotechnology (the preferred NNI terminology), which are not yet determined.
this is not a report on the ethical challenges of nanotechnology, since emerging nanotechnologies present as much in social and ethical opportunities as in potential social and ethical problems, and ethics is as much aspirational as proscriptive.
I. Introduction: Technology, Ethics and Government
Technology and Society
Ethics and the Functions of Government
The National Nanotechnology Initiative and the “Other” Social and Ethical Issues
About this Report
II. Ethics and Emerging Nanotechnologies
Ethics as Restraint and Aspiration
Roles of Ethics in Responsible Development
Ethical Issues vs. Ethical Implications
III. Three Misconceptions about the Social and Ethical Issues
Too Soon to Tell
The Inevitable Goodness of the Nanotechnology Revolution
The Point Is to Secure Public Acceptance
IV. Typology of the Issues
Social Context Issues
Contested Moral Issues
Form of Life Issues
V. Social Context Issues
Scenario: Manufacturing Nanotechnology
The Issue: Environmental Justice and Nanotechnology
Addressing Environmental Injustice
Beyond Environmental Justice
Comments on Social Context Issues
VI. Contested Moral Issues
Scenario: Research at the Boundaries of Life Forms
Research on Novel Life Forms
The Issue: The Sanctity of Life Forms?
Beyond the Sanctity of Life Forms
Comments on Contested Moral Issues
VII. Technoculture Issues
Scenario: Nanotechnology, Genomics and Asthma in Upper Manhattan
The Issue: Nanotechnology as Techno-Fix?
Beyond the Techno-Fix
Comments on Technoculture Issues
VIII. Form of Life Issues
Scenario: Virtual Socialization
The Issue: Virtual Reality and Sociability
Beyond Virtual Reality and Sociability
Comments on Form of Life Issues
IX. Transformational Issues
Scenario: Cognitive Enhancement
On the Threshold of (Radical) Human Enhancement?
Social and Ethical Dimensions of Radical Human Enhancement
The Issue: Transformational Dimensions of Radical Human Enhancement
Beyond Radical Human Enhancement
Comments on Transformational Issues
X. Conclusion: The Opportunity