From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Nanoethics concerns the ethical and social issues associated with developments in nanotechnology, a science which encompass several fields of science and engineering, including biology, chemistry, computing, and materials science. Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of very small-scale matter – a nanometer is one billionth of a meter, and nanotechnology is generally used to mean work on matter at 100 nanometers and smaller.
Social Implications of Nanotechnology
Social risks related to nanotechnology development include the possibility of military applications of nanotechnology (such as implants and other means for soldier enhancement) as well as enhanced surveillance capabilities through nano-sensors. Significant environmental, health, and safety issues arise with development in nanotechnology since scientists have a limited understanding of the effects of nanoparticles in our environment. In discussing issues related to nanotechnology, the acronym NELSI is used to signify nanotechnology's ethical, legal, and social implications.
Criticism of Nanotechnology
Critics of nanotechnology point to a new world of ownership and corporate control opened up by nanotechnology. The claim is that, just as biotechnology's ability to manipulate genes went hand in hand with the patenting of life, so too nanotechnology's ability to manipulate molecules has led to the patenting of matter. The last few years has seen a gold rush to claim patents at the nanoscale. Over 800 nano-related patents were granted in 2003, and the numbers are increasing year to year. Corporations are already taking out broad ranging monopoly patents on nanoscale discoveries and inventions. For example, two corporations, NEC and IBM, hold the basic patents on carbon nanotubes, one of the current cornerstones of nanotechnology. Carbon nanotubes have a wide range of uses, and look set to become crucial to several industries from electronics and computers, to strengthened materials to drug delivery and diagnostics. Carbon nanotubes are poised to become a major traded commodity with the potential to replace major conventional raw materials. However, as their use expands, anyone seeking to manufacture or sell carbon nanotubes, no matter what the application, must first buy a license from NEC or IBM.
Issues for Nanoethics
Nanoethicists posit that such a transformative technology could exacerbate the divisions of rich and poor – the so-called “nano divide.” In fact, many of the most enthusiastic proponents of nanotechnology, such as transhumanists, see the nascent science as a mechanism to changing human nature itself – going beyond curing disease and enhancing human characteristics. Discussions on nanoethics have been hosted by the federal government, especially in the context of “converging technologies” – a catch-phrase used to refer to nano, biotech, information technology, and cognitive science.
- U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative, Societal Dimensions
- Center on Nanotechnology and Society
- USC's Nanoscience & Technology Studies
- NELSI Global
- ASU's Center on Nanotechnology and Society
- UCSB's Center on Nanotechnology and Society
- The Nanoethics Group
- Foresight Nanotech Institute
- Center for Responsible Nanotechnology