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Conference to tackle ethics of nanotechnology and human enhancement

A conference organized by faculty at California Polytechnic State University, Dartmouth College, the University of Delaware, and Western Michigan University will tackle what they claim is “the single most important issue in science & society in this century.” The Human Enhancement & Nanotechnology Conference will be held March 28-29, 2009 at the Western Michigan University, Fetzer Center. The conference is free to attend and includes continental breakfasts, lunches, and a good supply of coffee and snacks but early registration is highly recommended because seats are limited.

The Human Enhancement & Nanotechnology Conference focuses on the ethical, social, and related issues that arise in the application of nanotechnology to human enhancement. While nanotechnology is not the only technology that can be applied to human enhancement, it is and will be a core one; without it many current and future enhancements would not be possible. These technological possibilities will derive from many sources, especially nanoelectronics and nanomaterials.

As an example of an ethical issue, bionic limbs (e.g., for greater strength or vision) and neural chips implanted into one’s head (e.g., for on-demand access to the Internet and software applications) may give the individual significant advantages in many areas, from sports to jobs to academia. But these technologies may hold health risks——similar to steroid or Ritalin use for enhancement purposes, as distinct from therapy—as well as raise ethical concerns related to fairness, access, and general societal disruption. Therefore, it is no surprise that, on both sides of the debate, the ethics of human enhancement is believed to be the single most important issue in science & society in this century.

The abstracts and bios of all fourteen speakers are on the conference web site. Among those fourteen, Foresight Senior Associate Tihamer Toth-Fejel (General Dynamics) will be speaking on “Nanotechnology and Productive Nanosystems for the U.S. Military: Progress and Implications”

A survey of recent and ongoing nanoscale research at government defense contractors shows continual improvements that will lead to high-performance equipment for warfighters. Continued progress in nanoscale structures, devices, machines, and systems will lead to Productive Systems, and this direction is most notable in DARPA’s Tip-Based Nanofabrication program. Defense-oriented research in nanotechnology, while currently aimed at clothing and other external gear, will eventually end up inside the bodies of warfighters, with a wide variety of implications. The ethical evaluation of these implications depends on non-provable assumptions about reality, and the most important relevant issues have been discussed by philosophers for millennia: the nature of the human person and the ethics of war.

Whether or not you will be able to attend the conference, Nanodot readers are invited to comment on whether you believe that the ethics of human enhancement is “the single most important issue in science & society in this century.”
—Jim

9 Responses to “Conference to tackle ethics of nanotechnology and human enhancement”

  1. Says:

    Human enhancement via nanotech is one of the most important issues of this century. The ideas of DNA repair, improved memory and upgraded IQ are promising, possibly the next step in evolution. What would be the trade-off? Will “privacy” disappear? If we have networked computers in our brains, will our thoughts eventually end up in some database? What about “free will?” Could these machines be able to take over our minds and control our thoughts and actions?

    I think the answer will be in the programming, we will all find out soon enough.

  2. Says:

    Presumably the only barrier to access would be cost. Wealth though is already a barrier to many things in life, there is nothing special about human enchancement that will change that. As long as you wait to ‘enchance’ individuals untill they are able to consent (which requires both mental capacity, and enough information to make a reasoned choice) , then I don’t see any problem what so ever. The places I see for debate are about prenatal enchancement, enchancement of children, and forced enchancement (such is in the military, were it is conceivable that a soldier would be ordered to undergo enchancement against thier wishes).

    So while there will be associated ethical issues, I doubt it will define the next century from an ethics perspective, though it could well define it from a social and scientific view point.

  3. Says:

    It would be interesting to know when and where the papers will be published and if they will be freely available.

    Forcing soldiers to be enhanced against their wishes is not a smart idea.

  4. Says:

    Earlier post asked “What would be the trade off?”Imo it is the fact we are no longer humans but machines.

  5. Says:

    ^^ Isn’t a human-as-machine more properly called a cyborg in the SF literature that has [already] explored the subject?

  6. GNTIS » Blog Archive » Human enhancement: Are we going cyborg? Says:

    [...] Some other people’s ponderings: http://www.foresight.org/nanodot/?p=2993 [...]

  7. Says:

    The programming is allowed to change within the individual, and if it cannot, who is to separate between machine and human? Why? And if things were perceived in different ways, why would that affect nanotechnology to an advanced state? What would be the implications?

  8. Says:

    Eventually, the whole distinction between human and machine will be irrelevant. The only distinction with any meaningful difference for our descendants will be between different states of being. The debate regarding “human v. machine” will be perceived as merely a quaint mental quandary for a long gone primitive race of beings.

  9. Says:

    PERMANENT ETHICS OF NANO-TECH USE
    Dr. Ramanuj C. Chilakamarri

    Parts have been implanted in human body, nano or no nano e.g. mechanical parts to regulate heart. At a minimum, the five senses enhancing parts based on nano-tech also can not violate the same purposes, regulations, ethical and moral principles under which the non-nano parts are being gained, manufactured, and operated, maintained and implemented. That said, that we have entered cyborg age is not new. The ethicality of nano included cyborgism enters into question when the cyborg is in danger of loosing its own control of its birth right. That birth right is to have the sense of individual and independent existence (SIIS). To the extent that scientists including nano-scientists, industry and governments (SIGs) try to use the fruits of nano-tech to diminish that birth right is a crime against humanity. To the extent that SIGs use to support, preserve, promote and enhance SIIS they are acting ethically. SIIS is the central consideration in ethically practicing ethics for humans. It must be upheld valid throughout all human endeavors whether nano or no nano this century or future centuries.

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