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Zeroing in on ethical issues in nanotechnology

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1 Author(s)
Weil, V. ; Illinois Inst. of Technol., Chicago, IL, USA

Setting aside exaggerated notions of both the benefits and harms to be expected from nanotechnologies, we need to focus ethical investigation on specific initiatives at the nano scale that are already underway or planned. The aims are to anticipate ethical issues likely to arise in specific cases, to foster sensitivity to ethical issues and responsibility among nano specialists and policy makers, and to stimulate interchange between nano specialists and members of the public so that the public can become involved. After clarifying what the term "nanotechnology" embraces and looking at cautionary lessons from experience with the information technologies and biotechnology, the discussion turns to the importance of anticipating consequences, intended and unintended. Although specific nano options to consider are lacking, a brief survey indicates the issues to watch out for: preventable harms, conflicts about justice and fairness, respect for persons, and more specifically, safeguards for workers in new production processes, intellectual property concerns, preservation of university values in university/industry relationships, and conflicts of interest. Three main fronts of activity are needed to address ethical issues: 1) incorporating ethics research into nano research and development enterprises; 2) devising mechanisms to involve the public so that their perspectives and concerns feed back into research and development; and 3) initiating educational efforts at every level addressing both technical aspects and ethics and social implications aspects.

Published in:

Proceedings of the IEEE  (Volume:91 ,  Issue: 11 )