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Three-year project to study ethics of human enhancement and nanotechnology
The Nanoethics Group today announced that its core members have been awarded two grants, totaling approximately $250,000, by the U.S. National Science Foundation to study ethical issues related to human enhancement and nanotechnology. The grants will fund collaborative research between Dartmouth College and Western Michigan University for the next three years.
The principal investigators of the award are James Moor, Ph.D., at Dartmouth and Fritz Allhoff, Ph.D., at Western Michigan University. Patrick Lin, Ph.D., director of The Nanoethics Group, will join the research team as a post-doctoral associate at Dartmouth. Scientists from Dartmouth’s Center for Nanomaterials Research and other invited participants will also play a key role in the project.
For thousands of years, humans have enhanced their capacities by using tools, but technology today can be used to enhance humans themselves, either on or in their bodies. This is evident not only in the use of drugs to enhance athletes, but also in innovations that make us more productive workers, more durable soldiers, more creative artists, and more attractive persons. Many more such enhancements seem just over the scientific horizon, particularly given predicted advances in nanotechnology; but the ethics of human enhancements are still murky at best.
The questions to be investigated by the nanoethics research team include, but are not limited to: What exactly constitutes enhancement? Is there a right to be enhanced? Is it justifiable to enhance people in order for them to undertake certain tasks, e.g., in the military? Is there an obligation to enhance our children? Should there be limits on the types of enhancement allowed or the degree to which someone can be enhanced? Does it make an ethical difference if some enhancing device is implanted into the body rather than worn on the outside? Does the notion of human dignity suffer with such enhancements?
“The ethics of human enhancement technologies is widely held to be the single most important debate in science and society and will define the 21st century,” explained Dr. Lin. “Today, human enhancement may mean steroids or Viagra or cosmetic surgeries. But with the accelerating pace of technology, some of the more fantastic scenarios may arrive sooner than people think such as advanced cybernetic body parts and computers imbedded in our brains which magnify the ethical issues involved. So our NSF research grant will be pivotal in sorting out the issues and advancing this complex debate.”
About Nanoethics Group:
The Nanoethics Group is a non-partisan and independent research organization formed to study nanotechnology's impact on society and related ethical issues. As professional ethicists, we help to identify and evaluate possible harms and conflicts as well as to bring balance and common sense to the debate. Our mission is to educate and advise both organizations and the broader public on these issues as a foundation to guide policy and responsible research.
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