Nanotechnology and Society
Keller, Kenneth H.
Journal of Nanoparticle Research
Vol. 9, Num. 1
The interactions between the technology and society can best be captured by systems approaches. "These interactions are bi-directional, " says Keller, "[o]n the one hand, new technologies influence a society's economic and political structures and often raise issues related to the society's values and culture....On the other hand,the way society structures its policies and institutions for supporting, regulating, and judging the safety of technologies has a strong influence on the pace and direction of their development." Nuclear power has such a history, as does biomedical engineering and biotechnology.
Keller comments: "Nanotechnology is likely to be particularly affected by these kinds of interactions because of its great promise and the unusually early public attention it has received....[It] is, in some respects, a packaging of a very broad range of basic research activities into a "mission-like" activity." Overpromising is a persistent problem in the field. He concludes, 'The challenge will be to eschew an approach that focuses entirely on technical questions of safety, even though those questions are vital to address. In a sense, just as the very concept of nanotechnology as a quasi-mission is an experiment, the approach to dealing with the social dimensions of the technologys introduction is another real-time experiment: an attempt to understand how best to balance the necessary delegation of responsibility for the detailed aspects of a new technology to those who are expert in its science, with the need to inform and include the public in the larger questions concerning its use."