Towards the conscientious development of ethical nanotechnology

Science and Engineering Ethics 10 (4):627-638 (2004)
Nanotechnology, the emerging capability of human beings to observe and organize matter at the atomic level, has captured the attention of the federal government, science and engineering communities, and the general public. Some proponents are referring to nanotechnology as “the next technological revolution”. Applications projected for this new evolution in technology span a broad range from the design and fabrication of new membranes, to improved fuel cells, to sophisticated medical prosthesis techniques, to tiny intelligent machines whose impact on humankind is unknowable. As with the appropriation of technological innovation generally, nanotechnology is likely to eventually bring dramatic and unpredictable new capabilities to human material existence, along with resulting ethical challenges and social changes to be reconciled. But as of yet, aside from a few simple new consumer goods, such as paint, rackets and fabric coatings, nanotechnology is undeveloped. Its social and ethical dimensions are not apparent. Even still, given the stated goals of the various nanotechnology initiatives to rearrange matter with increasing atomic precision, the impact of nanotechnology on human life and society is likely be profound. It is very difficult, however, to make accurate predictions about the future impact of nanotechnology development on humanity. At this time, the most important role for ethics analysis is to contribute to a humanitarian, conscientious approach to its development. This paper suggests that such an approach requires that attention be given to the roles of imagination, meaning-making, metaphor, myth and belief.
Keywords nanoscaled science and technology  nanotechnology  ethics  imagination  meaning  belief
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DOI 10.1007/s11948-004-0043-3
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