Views of Nanotechnology – The Ethics

Opening Remarks
The Task Group will need to identify the known “Facts” from the projected “Fictions” about Nanotechnology. The Journey of the Human Genone project provides a useful exemplar of the inter-relationship between science, technology and the dignity of the human person within the “uncharted” socio-cultural territory. The reflective methodology of futurist thinkers like Neil Postman (Technopoly – The Surrender of Culture Technology) and Alvin Toffler (Future Shock and the Third Wave) could prove thought-provoking for the Task Group members.

The Group needs to examine the pre-suppositions behind the formation process which resulted in statements made by the Royal Society of Engineering on the major advantages in science in recent years. This will help to identify the ethical paradigms which have previously guided its thinking. The applicability of these historic approaches can then be examined in relation to Nanotechnology.

A Hermeneutic Proposal For Nanotechnology
Ian Barbour in “Ethics in an Age of Technology” suggests three key interpreters of scientific developments: Technology as Liberator, Threat and Instruments of Power.

Nanotechnology as Liberator involves exercises in human creativity; prudent application of the principal of “due proportion” between risks, benefits, expense (industrial and societal) and the physical, moral and spiritual impact of this technology on the human being; a sense of duty to the common good of UK society as well as the global common good of developing countries who could benefit from Nanotechnology.

Nanotechnology as Threat involves concerns about self-replicating organisms, nanoviruses, the reconfiguration of life-forms in nature, a potential depersonalisation of human life, and issues surrounding security, military applications and nanoterrorism.

Nanotechnology as an Instrument of Power involves concerns about the emergence of a nanotechnocracy; the possibility of the structures within nature being copyrighted when the environment is a gift to all people; issues surrounding the establishment of a monitoring body to decide between societal or military research priorities (if this is non-governmental), difficulties in regulating Nanotechnology to minimise inequalities at a social, cultural, economic and global level; the potentiality of “Nano-rich” and Nano-poor” countries, together with concerns about Nano-colonialism or Nano-imperialism, Nano-surveillance and invasion of privacy.

Revd Peter J Conley
Ethical Adviser, Biomedical Engineering
School of Engineering & Applied Science
Aston University