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Home > Nanotechnology Columns > Nanoethics


September 13th, 2009
Ethics of Human Enhancement: 25 Questions & Answers
Patrick Lin
Director, Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group

In our recent NSF-funded report, excerpted here, we examine many ethical and social issues surrounding human en-hancement technologies. No matter where one is aligned on this issue, it is clear that the human enhancement debate is a deeply passionate and personal one, striking at the heart of what it means to be human. Some see it as a way to fulfill or even transcend our potential; others see it as a darker path towards becoming Frankenstein's monster. To help untangle this debate, we have organized this report as the following list of questions and answers, starting with background issues and moving to specific concerns, including: freedom & autonomy, health & safety, fairness & equity, societal disruption, and human dignity.
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April 25th, 2009
The Wild West of Nanotechnology
Summer Johnson
Executive Managing Editor, The American Journal of Bioethics

Nanotechnology has been described as many things: the next industrial revolution, the great leveler, an emerging technology, even technology of the Singularity. Yet, I am going to liken the nanotechnology revolution to the American Wild West. Let me explain why a 19th century metaphor is apt and why its actually a good thing for nanotechnology's image, its regulation, or for its progress as we move forward in the 21st century to be likened to the era of gunslingers and cowboys. Read the Whole Article

March 7th, 2009
Nanofood: Without Transparency and Accountability A Guaranteed Public Health Crisis
Summer Johnson
Executive Managing Editor, The American Journal of Bioethics

With nanotechnology certain to make its way into food manufacturing and food products, transparency and accountability is essential to avoid the kinds of food crises we have seen of late in other parts of the food industry such as the melamine calamity in China and the peanut/salmonella contamination problem in the United States. Food safety is essential to public health and for nanotechnology not to exacerbate that problem the time to anticipate future problems and solutions is now. Read the Whole Article

January 15th, 2009
Making "Nanoethics" A Real Word
Summer Johnson
Executive Managing Editor, The American Journal of Bioethics

A significant amount of theoretical debate has occurred regarding whether "nanoethics" is a real discipline, a sub-dicipline of bioethics, applied ethics, or ethics generally. However, the really important question is not this one but a far more simple one: what does nanoethics do for us in the "real world" anyway? My argument is that it is the work of bioethicists, applied ethicists and others to make nanoethics a real word that does actual work and has meaning for the scientists, policymakers, and consumers of nanotechnology--otherwise the term is as abstract as the thereoretical debates regarding its academic home. Read the Whole Article

September 20th, 2007
In Defense of Nanoethics: A Reply to Adam Keiper (The New Atlantis)
Patrick Lin
Director, Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group

In the Spring 2007 issue of The New Atlantis, editor Adam Keiper wrote an article "Nanoethics as a Discipline?" that was critical and skeptical about the study of nanotechnology's ethical and social implications. The following is our reply to that article, an abridged version of which is published in the Summer 2007 issue of The New Atlantis. Read the Whole Article

August 3rd, 2007
Why the Future Needs Nanoethics
Patrick Lin
Director, Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group

From the introductory chapter of the new anthology "Nanoethics: The Ethical and Social Implications of Nanotechnology" (Wiley, August 2007), this excerpt talks about why we need to investigate the possible impacts of technology in general and nanotechnology in particular. Read the Whole Article

May 3rd, 2007
Space Ethics: Look Before Taking Another Leap for Mankind
Patrick Lin
Director, Ethics + Emerging Sciences Group

Given nanotechnology and other developments, commercial space travel is looking more like a real possibility than science fiction. But tied to that ambition, we may be held back by the gravity of emerging ethical dilemmas. This paper is a "think piece" that surveys a range of social, economic and political questions as well as critically evaluates reasons why we should explore space.

The usual ethical issues related to environmental and safety concerns are only the tip of this iceberg and are not so much the focus here. Rather, there are many other interesting questions, such as: What would be a fair process for commercializing or claiming property in space (as opposed to a chaotic land-grab similar to that with Internet domain names)? How likely would a separatist movement be among settlements who want to be free from their mother nations on Earth? Are reasons such as for adventure, wanderlust or "backing up the biosphere" good enough to justify our exploration of space?

The point here is not that we shouldn't explore space; rather, if we are to move forward with our journey, which may be unstoppable anyway, then we should seriously consider these issues. At the least, this would give the public more confidence that we are looking ahead before we take another leap for mankind.
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