Ethical aspects of nanotechnology

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1 Ethical aspects of nanotechnology Erasmus Mundus Lecture Series on Nanotechnology in Modern Society Prof. Johan De Tavernier 1 State of the Art Nanotechnology: science s next big thing Definitions Emerging technologies between science and society Mind the gap : science and ethics in nanotechnology Main ethical concerns Conclusion: closing the gap between science and ethics Prof. Johan De Tavernier 2 1

2 1. Definitions (1) Nanoscience = the ability to do things measure, see, predict and make on the scale of atoms and molecules and exploit the novel properties found at that scale (DTI) (2) Top-down T = fabrication of nanoscale structures by machining and etching techniques Bottom-up T = creation of organic and inorganic structures, atom by atom, or molecule by molecule Prof. Johan De Tavernier 3 2. Emerging technologies between science and society Lessons from biotechnology? Building an interface between nanotechnology and society: ethical and societal dialogue as a form of social engineering in order to steer the system to a new equilibrium Prof. Johan De Tavernier 4 2

3 2.1. Lessons from biotechnology? How to avoid the mistakes of GM? Sharp contrast in public perception between European Union and United States first acceptance, then rejection optimism towards new technologies The scepsis has less to do with risks but more with lack of institutional responsibilities (PABE) Prof. Johan De Tavernier Lessons from biotechnology? Precautionary Principle (UNCED Rio, 1992) in order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by states according to their capability. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation European White paper on Food Safety, Maastricht Treaty, etc. + negative public attitude towards GMO s How to avoid a maximalist interpretation of the precautionary principle in the debate on nanotechnology? Prof. Johan De Tavernier 6 3

4 2.2. Interface between nanotechnology and society Ethical and sociological reflection should accompany and not just follow technological research and development (NanoEthics) Ethical and sociological expertise should not simply analyze or negotiate possible conflicts but should also initiate partnerships (NanoEthics) Prof. Johan De Tavernier Interface between nanotechnology and society Illustration of social engineering : NanoEthics project (Swiss NSF) Debating ethical and societal implications of NT will have impact on Public understanding of NT The scientific-technological development of NT itself About TA/TF and ethical analysis SwissRe (2004) Royal Society (2004) Prof. Johan De Tavernier 8 4

5 3. Mind the gap : science and ethics in nanotechnology NT = rapidly expanding field Significant impact on society Society: Myths like gray goo scenario (Bill Jay) vs Steve Block (Stanford) Potential applications of NT (G. Stix) First guidelines on NT: K. Eric Drexler (Foresight Institute): Engines of Creation Prof. Johan De Tavernier 9 4. Main ethical concerns Privacy and security Safety Equity Human or machine? Sustainability: constructive or destructive research goals? Prof. Johan De Tavernier 10 5

6 4.1. Privacy and security Improvement of surveillance devices Tension between privacy and security Is there a duty to know? About the right to know and the right not to know Prof. Johan De Tavernier Safety Potential impact of nanoparticles on the environment Nanomaterials infiltrating human bodies? Simularities between nanotubes and asbestos fibres? More safety experiments needed Prof. Johan De Tavernier 12 6

7 4.2. Safety Technology optimists vs. scepticists Residual risk must be accepted zero risk tolerance In the long run both standpoints are detrimental to scientific and technological progress and their acceptance in society (Grunwald, 2004) Self regulatory mechanisms needed Prof. Johan De Tavernier Safety Information (passive) Trust in institutions Risk perception Knowledge (active) Daily aspect Medium (tv, films, books, ) Prof. Johan De Tavernier 14 7

8 4.2. Safety How to deal with uncertainties? Integrated risk analysis (Barling et al.,1999) Prof. Johan De Tavernier Equity Who will benefit from advances in NT? Digital divide and nano-divide? The poor would benefit from NT The potential of NT for developing countries Open source intellectual property protection Distributive justice Prof. Johan De Tavernier 16 8

9 4.4. Human or machine? Incorporation of artificial materials into human systems (f.i. implanted computer chips) Scepticism about modification of living systems Will technology such as implantable cells as sensors be accepted? Selfreplicating nanorobots (grey goo)? Prof. Johan De Tavernier Sustainability: constructive or destructive research goals? Need of prioritization of research goals Increasing security or preparing agressive weapon systems? Social responsibility of researchers Public funded research Importance of public dialogue processes Prof. Johan De Tavernier 18 9

10 Conclusion: closing the gap between science and ethics Capacity strenghtening Large-scale interdisciplinary research Involvement of developing countries Public involvement Scientists are most sensitive to public perceptions and attitudes towards nanotechnology. Commercial companies give until now the social dialogue a low priority (Rathenau, 2004) Prof. Johan De Tavernier 19 10

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