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NanoBioEthics: Advancing past the “Carbon Barrier”

Ron Bailey has written up his differences with Alan Goldstein, which were explored at a debate at the Foresight Vision Weekend a few days ago. “Waiting until the ethicists catch up with scientific and technological progress is a recipe for technological stagnation. Slowing innovation is not cost free. It makes a difference to tens of millions of people whether a cure for cancer or heart disease is found in 2010 or 2020…Finally, as much damage as future nanotech devices might cause, it’s nothing compared to the damage that bad policies or overly cautious ethical fatwas can make. Is humanity ready to break the carbon barrier? We’re about as ready as we’ll ever be.”

2 Responses to “NanoBioEthics: Advancing past the “Carbon Barrier””

  1. Dan Johnson Says:

    THANKS!, Christine, for writing the blog on the conference. It’s almost like I’m present (which I wish I could be).

    Please keep up the communications; it’s much appreciated.

    Dan Johnson

  2. Novak Says:

    I question the very notion that it is possible to wait until the ethicists catch up with the technologists. There have been a few essays out recently, and a few more in recent years, about the need to slow down and consider all the consequences, but– while I don’t want to sound like I’m castigating the idea of thinking ahead– is it really possible to do that?

    I think, the purposes of this response, that the answer is no. Bio-ethicists, or even techno-ethicists in general, are a small subset of the population at large. A very small subset, if the set we’re talking about is the set of all technoogy users. The set of all computer users, for instance, is in the billions. So, soon, will be the set of all nanotech users and biotech users. The chances that a small community of a few thousands or even a few tens of thousands will correctly anticipate and codify all the diverse good and bad applications and unintended consequences of nanotechnology is one that I find shockingly naive on its very face.

    It simply can’t be done.

    Now, as I said, I don’t want to castigate the notion of thinking ahead while we actually have that luxury, for once. But I fear even more the consequences of the ethicists effectively trying to stake out a pre-emptive veto on emerging technologies, which would effectively require their communal blessings on every major idea. That won’t work anyway, and will also lead to the ethcists simply being ignored.

    What to do?

    Given that I think technological ethics is a necessarily reactive field, perhaps the best policy is to make that reaction as quick and wise a reaction as possible– to tighten the loop, as it were. What would be the best way to make that happen?

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