Getting the best from nanotechnology: approaching social and ethical implications openly and proactively
Technology and Society Magazine, IEEE
Vol. 24, Num. 4
Nanotechnology will yield its best only if we pay close attention to its societal and ethical implications at the start, say Mills and Fledderman. If nanotechnology reaches technological maturity without any sort of societal or ethical review, problems already embedded will remain embedded. Mills and Fledderman discuss the similarities between nanotechnology and other disruptive technologies, the issues that will surface as nanotechnology matures and "actions that can be taken now to implement a new paradigm for the introduction of disruptive new technologies."
Nanotechnology, being disruptive and interdisciplinary, requires new structures for regulation. It actively entered the public imagination through Crichton's Prey. The use of chemical reactions to create nano-sized particles is not new, but the very specific control and high rate of production of nanoparticles is new. The lack of existing regulatory structures, the new reach of powers, and the fears of unexpected results suggest that perhaps a moratorium is reasonable, but unlikely. Mills and Fledderman hope for an ongoing international dialogue on benefits and harms of nanotechnology.
Health and safety, medicine and privacy will all be affected. There will be economic, international and legal issues to be resolves. "Education is the key to success of nanotechnology, not only for workforce development, but also to create public awareness and acceptance, and a sound legislative and regulatory environment." Best practices can be derived from lessons learned from the plastics industry (mostly after-the-fact), the Internet, biotech and the Human Genome Project. Now, on the cusp of the industrial explosion, is the time to address socially relevant issues.