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JANUARY8,2007

IntroductorypapertonanoethicssymposiumpublishedinInternationalJournalofAppliedPhilosophy(Fall2006),Vol.20,
Number2:179190


WhatsSoSpecialaboutNanotechnologyandNanoethics?
ByFritzAllhoffandPatrickLin


Abstract

Nanoethicsisacontentiousfieldforseveralreasons.Somebelieveitshouldnotberecognizedasaproperareaofstudy,
becausetheybelievethatnanotechnologyitselfisnotatruecategorybutratheranamalgamationofothersciences,such
aschemistry,physicsandengineering.Criticsalsoallegethatnanoethicsdoesnotraiseanynewissuesbutratherrevisits
familiaronessuchasprivacy.Thispaperanswerssuchcriticismsandsetsthecontextforthepapersthatfollowinthis
nanoethicssymposium.
__________________________________________________________

Nanoethics,orthestudyofnanotechnologysethicalandsocialimplications,isanemergingbutcontroversialfield.
Outsideoftheindustryandacademia,mostpeoplearefirstintroducedtonanotechnologythroughfictionalworksthat
positscenarioswhichscientistslargelyrejectofselfreplicatingnanobotsrunningamoklikeapandemicvirus.[1]In
themainstreammedia,wearebeginningtohearmorereportsabouttherisksnanotechnologyposesontheenvironment,
healthandsafety,withconflictingreportsfromwithintheindustry.

Giventhisgrowinginterestinnanoethics,aswellasrelatedconfusion,thisspecialvolumeoftheInternationalJournalof
AppliedPhilosophyisdedicatedtoasurveyofsomeofitscentralissues.Butbeforewediveintothatsymposium,we
mustfirstaddressapersistentmetacontroversysurroundingthestatusofnanotechnologyitself,whichcastsquestions
aboutthelegitimacyofnanoethicsasitsowndiscipline.

Somepeoplehavecomplainedthatnanotechnologyisnotarealdisciplineinthefirstplace,oratleastnotaclearly
definedone,therebymakingitsethicsequallyilldefined.Othersarguefurtherthatnanoethicsisnotentitledtoitsown
discipline,becauseitdoesnotraiseanynewquestionsthatarenotalreadyconsideredby,say,bioethicsorcomputer
ethics.Inthisintroduction,wewillexplainwhynanoethicsisadisciplineinitsownrightaswellassetsomecontextfor
thepapersthatfollowinthisspecialvolume.

1.Whatisnanotechnology?

First,weneedtobeclearonwhatnanotechnologyisbeforewecanappreciatetheethicalandsocialquestionsthatarise
fromitaswellasthecontroversysurroundingit.NanotechnologyishailedbytheUSgovernmentandindustry
organizationsasTheNextIndustrialRevolution.[2]Itisanewcategoryoftechnologythatinvolvestheprecise
manipulationofmaterialsatthemolecularlevelorascaleofroughly1to100nanometers,withananometerequaling
onebillionthofameter.Howsmallexactlyisananometer?Asonejournalisthadputit,Ifananometerweresomehow
magnifiedtoappearaslongasthenoseonyourface,thenaredbloodcellwouldappearthesizeoftheEmpireState
Building,ahumanhairwouldbeabouttwoorthreemileswide,oneofyourfingerswouldspanthecontinentalUnited
States,andanormalpersonwouldbeaboutastallassixorsevenplanetEarthspiledatoponeanother.[3]

Workingatthenanoscale,itturnsoutthatordinarymaterialscanhaveextraordinaryproperties,aboutwhichwearestill
learning.Atthenanoscale,quantumphysicsbeginstoplayakeyroleinthebehaviorofmaterials,andthelargesurface
tovolumeratioofelementsmeansthattheyaremuchmorereactive.So,forinstance,thingsthatarebrittleatthe
ordinaryscalemaypossesssuperstrengthatthenanoscale,andthingsthatdonotnormallyconductelectricitynow
mightatthenanoscale,amongothersurprisingchangestophysicalandchemicalproperties.
Asaspecificexampleofhowpropertieschangewithscale,aluminumisusedubiquitouslytomakeharmlesssodacans,
butinfinepowderform,itcanexplodeviolentlywhenincontactwithair.Butitisnotonlyaboutthesize:byprecisely
manipulatingcommonelementsatthenanoscale,scientistscanfashionnewmaterials.Forexample,carbonatomsbound
togetherinarelativelylooseconfigurationmaycreatecoalorgraphitefoundinpencilsinatighterconfiguration,carbon
makesdiamondsandanevenmorepreciseconfiguration,itcreatescarbonnanotubes,oneofthestrongestmaterials
knowntoman,estimatedtobeupto100timesstrongerthansteelatonesixththeweight.
Giventhesenewproperties,nanotechnologyispredictedtoenablesuchthingsas:smaller,fasterprocessingchipsthat
enablecomputerstobeimbeddedinourclothingoreveninourbodiesmedicaladvancesfordramaticallylessinvasive
surgeriesandmoretargeteddrugdeliverylighter,strongermaterialsthatmaketransportationsaferandenergyefficient
(e.g.,enablingustotravelfartherintospace)newmilitarycapabilitiessuchasenergyweaponsandlighterarmorand
countlessotherinnovations.Someevenpredictthatnanotechnologywillextendourlifespanbyhundredsofyearsor
morebyenablingcellularrepair,whichmightslow,halt,orreversetheagingprocess.[4]Andbecausenanotechnology
enablesustomanipulateindividualatomstheverybuildingblocksofnaturesomehavepredictedthatwewillbeable
tocreatevirtuallyanythingwewantinthefuture.[5]

Today,however,researchisstillcontinuingonthebasicscience,soweareyearsifnotdecadesawayfrommostofthe
fantasticnanotechnologyproductsthathavebeenpredicted.Nevertheless,companiesarebeginningtoproductizemore
oftheirresearchtocreatecommerciallyviableapplicationsbasedonnanomaterials.Thesenanotechnologyproductsare
quicklyenteringthemarketplacetoday,fromstainresistantpantstoscratchresistantpainttobettersportsequipmentto
moreeffectivecosmeticsandsunblock.

Infact,Procter&Gamble,asoneexampleofaleadingconsumergoodscompany,announcedin2006thatitislookingto
incorporatenanotechnologyintoitsproducts.[6]Othernotablecompaniesmadesimilarstatementsrecentlyaswell,such
asBASFsplantoinvestUS$221millioninnanotechnologyresearchanddevelopmentoverjustthenextthreeyears.[7]

2.Isnanotechnologyitsowndiscipline?

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DespitemassivespendinginnanotechnologybycorporationsandcountriestheUSgovernmentaloneisexpectedto
investoverUS$1.2billionin2007throughitsNationalNanotechnologyInitiative(NNI)thereisstilladebateover
whethernanotechnologyisalegitimatefield.

Atfirstglance,thiscontroversyseemsstrange,giventhatsomuchisbeinginvestedinnanotechnologyworldwide.If
nanotechnologywerenotarealfield,thenwhydoesitcommandsomuchattentionandmoney?Manypeople,however,
believenanotechnologytobemerelyaconvergenceoramalgamationofseveralexistingdisciplines,suchaschemistry,
biology,physics,materialscience,engineering,informationtechnologyandsoon,whichhassometruthtoit.

Asanexampleofbiologyinspiringengineering,scientistsarecreatingartificialnoseswithnanosizedsensorswhichcan
accuratelysniffoutsmellsthatareotherwiseimperceptibletohumans.[8]Similarworkhasbeendonetocreate
artificialcompoundeyes[9],borrowingfromnaturesdesignofinsecteyes,aswellasartificialskin[10]using
nanomaterialstomimicthesensitivityoftouch.Andentireresearchcentershavebeencreatedtoexplorethisrichfield,
includingGeorgiaTechsCenterforBiologicallyInspiredDesigns(CBID)andUCBerkeleysCenterforInterdisciplinary
BioInspirationinEducationandResearch(CIBER).

Butdoesdrawingfromotherscientificareasprecludenanotechnologyfrombeingafieldinitsownright?Considerthe
similarandongoingdebateinphilosophyofsciencewhetherchemistry,biologyandotherestablishedsciencescanbe
reducedtosimplyphysics.Onelineofthoughtisthattheseotherfieldsoperatetheywaytheydogiventhelawsof
physicsthatgovernhowatoms,moleculesandtheirdependentstructuresinteractwitheachotherandtheworld.Butno
matterwhichsideofthedebatewetakehere,nooneoneithersideactuallysuggeststhatchemistryandbiology,for
example,donotconstitutetheirowndisciplinessoitwouldbeinconsistenttoinsistthatnanotechnologyevenifit
substantiallyborrowsfromotherfieldscannotbemeaningfullydiscussedorinvestigatedasafieldofitsown.Aswith
theseotherscientificfields,nanotechnologyseemstobringsomethinguniquetothediscussionthatmeritsrecognitionas
itsownfieldorinotherwords,itisgreaterthanthesumofitsparts.Attheleast,itappearstobethefirsttointegrate
otherwisedistinctfieldsinthisonearea.

Anothersourceofthecontroversyaboutnanotechnologysontologicalstatuscomesfromvariousopinionsonwhenthe
fieldwasfirstcreated.ManypointtoRichardFeynmanin1959asthefoundingfatherofnanotechnologyotherstoNorio
Taniguchiin1974andstillotherstoK.EricDrexlerin1986.But,asthefollowingquotefromphysicistRichardA.L.Jones
shows,agrowingsentimentinthefieldpointstoamuchmorerecent,andunlikely,person:

PerhapsabettercandidatetobeconsiderednanotechnologysfatherfigureisPresidentClinton,whosesupportofthe
USAsNationalNanotechnologyInitiativeconvertedovernightmanyindustriousphysicists,chemistsandmaterials
scientistsintonanotechnologists.Inthiscynical(thoughpopular)view,theideaofnanotechnologydidnotemerge
naturallyfromitsparentdisciplines,butwasimposedonthescientificcommunityfromoutside.[11]

3.Isnanoethicsitsowndiscipline?

Theprecedingquotesuggeststhatnanotechnologyisapoliticalconstructoramarketingbuzzwordinventedtoresuscitate
olddisciplinesthatappeartobelosingground,particularlyintheU.S.wherethedeclineofsciencegraduateshasbeen
welldocumented.Butnomatterwhattheanswerishere,wecanalreadynowunderstandsomeofthecontroversy
surroundingwhethernanoethicsisafieldinitsownright:ifnanotechnologyisjustafancytermforarangeofother
fields,thenethicalandsocialquestionsarisingfromnanotechnologywouldseemtobethesamekindofquestionsalready
raisedintheseotherfields.

Indeed,onecritic,professorSorenHolm,asks:

Itisdifficulttospecifyexactlywhatcouldmakeanareaoftechnologysospecialthatitneedsitsownethics,buta
minimalrequirementmustbethatiteitherraisesethicalissuesthatarenotraisedbyotherkindsoftechnologies,orthat
itraisesethicalissuesofadifferent(i.e.,larger)magnitudethanothertechnologies.Isthisthecasefor
nanotechnology?[12]
PhilipBall,sciencewriterforNature,elaboratesonthispoint:

Questionsaboutsafety,equity,militaryinvolvementandopennessareonesthatpertaintomanyotherareasofscience
andtechnology[andnotjustnanotechnology].Itwouldbeagraveandpossiblydangerousdistortionifnanotechnology
weretocometobeseenasadisciplinethatraisesunprecedentedethicalandmoralissues.Inthisrespect,Ithinkit
genuinelydoesdifferfromsomeaspectsofbiotechnologicalresearch,whichbroachentirelynewmoralquestions.[13]
Thesearefairandforgivableconcerns,andcurrentresearchinnanoethicsmightevensupportthisposition.Forinstance,
inshrinkingdowndevices,nanotechnologyisexpectedtocreateanewclassofsurveillancedevicesthatarevirtually
invisibleandundetectable,therebyraisingprivacyquestionshowever,thesequestionsdonotappeartobenewsome
skepticswouldclaimbutsimplyanextensionofthecurrentdebateaboutprivacy.Nanotechnologyisalsopredictedto
playacriticalroleindevelopinghumanenhancingtechnologies,suchascyberneticbodypartsoranexoskeletonthat
givesussuperhumanstrengthorinfraredvisionhowever,societyhasalreadybeendiscussingtheethicsofsuch
technologieswithrespecttobiotechnologyandcognitivesciences.Inthemoredistantfuture,somepeopleenvision
nanotechnologysroleinextendingthehumanlifespantothepointofnearimmortalitybutthequestionofwhetherwe
wantorshouldlivelonger,orforeveraswellasitspolitical,economicandsocialimpactsdoesnotseemdependenton
nanotechnologyperse.

Ontheotherhand,someissuesareemergingthatappearuniquetonanotechnology,namelythenewenvironmental,
healthandsafety(EHS)risksarisingnanomaterials.Forinstance,researchstudiessuggestthatsomenanoparticlesare
directlyharmfultoanimals,andbecausetheycanbetakenupbycells,theymightenterourfoodchaintounknown
effectsonhumanhealth.[14]Otherresearchaskswhethercarbonnanotubeswillbethenextasbestos,sincebothhave
thesamewhiskerlikeshapethatmakesitsodifficulttopurgefromourlungsifinhaled.[15]Andtheflipsideofcreating
superstrongmaterialssuchascarbonnanotubesistheirfateattheendofaproductlifecycle:willthesematerials
persistindefinitelyinourlandfills,asisthecasewithStyrofoamornuclearwaste?[16]

Onenewethicalissueisperhapsnotenoughtoconfirmnanoethicsasafieldinitsownright.Andinfact,wecould
perhapsreduceeventhisapparentlyuniqueissuetobelongtoanotherdiscipline,suchasengineeringorenvironmental
ethicsthatquestionsthewisdomofcreatingproductsthatdonotdecompose.Butthereareothergoodreasonsfor
believingnanoethicstobeadistinctfield,especiallyifwebelievethatnanotechnologyitselfisadistinctfield.

First,nanoethicsalsocommandsasignificantamountofattentionandmoney,thoughfarlessthantheamountpoured
intonanotechnology.IntheU.S.,theNNIcurrentlysetsasideapproximately$43millionfortheidentificationand
quantificationofthebroadimplicationsofnanotechnologyforsociety,includingsocial,economic,workforce,educational,
ethical,andlegalimplications.[17]Soitwouldcertainlybestrangethattherewouldbesomuchinvestedbyvarious
governmentagencies,universities,publishersandotherorganizationsglobally,ifnanoethicswerenotadistinctor
intelligiblefield.Ofcourse,thereisapossibilitythatalltheseorganizationsandscholarshavebeenfooledbecause
nanotechnologyanditsethicsallegedlydonotexist,butthatappearsmoreunlikelythancorrectlyidentifying
nanotechnologyasameaningfulareaofitsown.

Second,itisunclearwhyweshouldacceptthelitmustestthat,tobeatruediscipline,nanoethicsmusteitherraisenew
ethicalissuesorlargerethicalissuesthanothertechnologies.Lookingagainatchemistry,forexample,whetherornotwe
canproperlycategorizeitasasubsetofphysics,thereisnoexistentialdilemmaaboutitsstatusasalegitimatecategory
nooneisproposingtodoawaywiththenameorreorganizetheuniversitychemistrylabunderthephysicsdepartment.
Therefore,itisunclearwhysuchadilemmawouldexistwithnanoethics,evenifnanoethicscanbewhollycontainedwithin
anotherfieldorsetoffields.

Third,totheextentthatnanotechnologyisaconvergenceofmanydisciplinesinthefirstplace,itshouldbenosurprise
thatnanoethicsisaconvergenceofmanyethicalareasaswell.Soevenifanewareaofethicsrequiresraisingnewor
largerissues,thatstandardmaynolongerapplywiththediscoveryorcreationofnanotechnology,whichuniquelydraws
fromotherdisciplineslikenootherdisciplinebeforeit.

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Ratherthananargumentthatnanotechnologyisnotarealdisciplinebecauseitdoesnottrulybreaknewground,
nanotechnologyseemstorepresentanewheightinourunderstandingabouttheworld.Wearefinallyabletointegrate
ourlearningfromawiderangeoffieldstocreateprofoundlyusefulapplications,whichhappentobelongtothecategory
ofnanotechnology.Sojustas,forexample,architecturecanberegardedasaconvergenceofaestheticdesignand
engineering,sotoocannanotechnologyandnanoethicsbeconsideredarealdisciplineevenifitisaconvergenceof
otherfields.Again,thewholeofnanotechnologyisarguablygreaterthanthesumofitsparts,becauseofthenew
synergiesorinterplaybetweenthevariousparts.

Fourth,nanoethicsdoesseemtoraisenewethicalissuesinsofarasitaddsanewdimensionorflavortocurrentethical
debates.Forinstance,thoughprivacymaybearelativelyolddebate,thepossibilityofcreatingnearinvisibleand
undetectabledevicesdidnotmeaningfullyexistpriortonanotechnologysonanotechnologybringsanewurgencyand
realitytotheissueofprivacy.Further,nanotechnologymayhelpshifttheprivacydebateinanentirelynewdirection:
whereasworriesaboutunauthorizedorunwantedsurveillancehavetraditionallyfocusedonafewagencies,notably
governmentalorganizations,thepossibilityofcheap,ubiquitoustrackingdevicesemergingnowwithradiofrequency
identitychip(RFID)technology,asonepaperinthissymposiumwilldiscuss,andlatertoagreaterextentwith
nanotechnologydecentralizessurveillanceandchangesthetermsofthedebate.
Nanotechnologylikewiseisputtinganewspotlightandelevatingotherethicalissues,suchasrelatedtohuman
enhancementorlongevity.Evensomethingasapparentlytangentialastheethicsofspaceexplorationandsettlements
orspaceethicsnowoverlapswithnanoethics,becauseonlywithnanotechnologydoesthepossibilityofextendedspace
flightsandterraforming(i.e.,theabilitytocreateahospitableatmosphereandenvironmentonanotherplanetormoon)
becomeplausible.

4.Issuesinnanoethics

Ifnanoethicsisitsowndiscipline,thenwhatareitsissues?Again,controversysurroundseventhisquestion.Ifweare
conservativeandonlyacknowledgethoseissuesthatwilllikelyorpossiblyarisefromcurrentlinesofresearchin
nanotechnologywhichisprimarilyfocusedonthediscoveryandapplicationsofnewnanomaterialsthennanoethics
certainlycoverssomeoftheissuesmentionedabove:EHSimpacts,privacy,humanenhancementaswellasglobal
security(sincethemilitaryisamajordriverofnanotechnologyresearchtosuchadegreethatsomefearanewarms
race).[18]Otherrelevantissuesmayincluderesearchethics(ifsomeresearchseemstodangeroustopublishorpursue,
e.g.,splittingtheatom,humancloning,orreplicatingvirusescapableofpandemics),intellectualproperty(iftodays
patentgrabandprocessesstifleinnovation),andhumanitarianism(whywearenotdoingmoretosolvepoverty,hunger,
energy,cleanwaterandotherproblemsthroughnanotechnology).

Butmoreimaginativepeople,suchasDrexler,postulateamoreadvancedformofnanotechnologyinourfuture
sometimescalledmolecularmanufacturingbywhichwecanpositionindividualmoleculeswithexactprecision.The
differencebetweenhowwecreatenanomaterialstoday(e.g.,carbonnanotubes)withpreciselypositionedmolecules,and
molecularmanufacturingisthedifferencebetweenengineeringandchemistry.Carbonnanotubesrelyonbulkchemical
processesandreactionsathightemperaturestocreatethedesiredconfigurationofcarbonatoms,whichissimilarin
principletotheusualchemistryexperimentsinwhichvariouselementsandcompoundsarethrowntogetherinbulkand
shakenuptopredictablycreateabatchofnewcompounds.[19]Incontrast,molecularmanufacturingisenvisionedtobe
morelikeaconstructionjob,grabbingsingleatomsanddeliberatelyattachingthemtootherstoformthedesired
structure.Thishighdegreeofprecision,withoutmessychemicalreactions,wouldintheoryenableustocreatepractically
anypossibleobject.
Thislineofthoughtisinstantiatedbyadetailedspeculativedesignforananofactorythatmightbeaportableordesktop
deviceablackboxofsortsthatcancreatevirtuallyanyobjectwewant,fromcakestocomputers.Tooversimplify
things,rawmaterials,saydirtandwater,mightgoinoneend,andarawsteakorperhapsanunmannedfighterjetmight
comeouttheother.Whilethismaysoundlikesciencefiction,thetheorybehinditseemssound:ifwecanprecisely
manipulatemolecules,andphysicalobjectsareonlymadeupofmolecules,thenwhywouldntwebeablecreateany
physicalobjectwewant?
Ifthisstillsoundsfarfetched,considerthesimilaritieswithtodays3Dprintersthatcanprintoutplasticorceramic
objectsonethinlayeratatime.Nolongerlimitedtoproducingonlymanufacturingprototypesandmachineparts,3D
printersrecentlybrokenewgroundinprintingoutfullyfunctionalandfashionablefootwear,amonganexpandingand
impressivearrayofprintondemandproducts.[20]Thenanofactoryoperatesbythesameconcept,exceptwithmuch
moreprecisionandamixofdifferentmaterials.

Soifadvancenanotechnologyisinourpossiblefuture,thenitraisestrulyuniqueandseriousquestionsandfollowing
thelitmustestconsideredearlier,itmaystronglysupportnanoethicsasadistinctdiscipline.Molecularmanufacturing
appearstohavethepotentialtowreakhavoconoureconomicsystemwheremillionsmightlosetheirjobsovernightin
themanufacturingandotherindustriesandperhapseliminatingtheneedforglobaltrade.Ifpeopleandterroristscan
easilycreateweaponswithpersonalnanofactories,thatmaythreatenglobalsecurityandthelivesofmillionsorbillionsof
others.Someofthemorefantasticissuesarealsorelatedtoadvancedformsofnanotechnology,ifnotdirectlyto
molecularmanufacturing,suchaslongevityorimmortality,spacesettlementsandartificialintelligence.

However,becausetheseissuesaretiedtoadvancedformsofnanotechnologytheplausibilityorlikelihoodofwhichisin
questionwithmainstreamscientistscriticsmaybelievethatitisinappropriateorwellprematuretoconsidersuchissues
now.Butwedonotneedtoresolvethatquestionhereinordertotakeseriouslytheethicalandsocialissuesadvanced
nanotechnologymightraise.Evenifadvancednanotechnologyisaremotepossibility,itsscenariosappearsodisruptive
thattheymeritconsideration.Asimplecostbenefitanalysismightjustifyspending$5millionoverthenextdecadeto
studyandperhapsmitigateascenariothathasa1%possibilityofcausing$1billionofeconomicdisruption,whichhasan
expectednegativeutilityorvalueof$10million.(Thesefiguresarepurelyhypotheticalbutappeartobeinaplausible
range.)
Asananalogy,ifdecodingthehumangenomehadjustasmalllikelihoodof,say,leadingtoemploymentorinsurance
discriminationbasedonapersonsgeneticmakeup,wewouldstillexpectthatscenariotobeimportantenoughtowarrant
aninvestigation.Ormoreabstractly,ifapoliticalcoursehadevenabarepossibilitytoleadingtoadevastatingwar,
costingthelivesofmillions,itseemsthatwearemorallyobligatedtoseriouslyconsiderthatpossibility,nomatterhow
remote.

Withnanotechnology,somuchisstillunknownthatscientistsarereallynotinapositiontoaccuratelyforecastwhatis
likelyornotandbywhen.Somebelievemolecularmanufacturingisinevitableothersdisagree.Butifhistoryisany
guide,mostofourmidandlongtermspredictionsabouttechnologyhavebeenprovenoverlyoptimisticorpessimistic
(e.g.,flyingcars,roboticmaidsandtheendofprivacy).Manythingswehavetodaywereoncebelievedtobeimpossible
orimpracticalsuchasgasstreetlights,residentialelectricity,telephones,highways,radio,airplanes,rocketsandeven
todaysubiquitouspersonalcomputersoperhapstheprudentcourseistotreatmostofthesepossibilitiesasreasonable
untilprovenotherwise.
Evenneartermchallengesintechnologysuchashowtoshrinkthesmallestcomputerprocessorevenfurtherseem
difficultifnotintractabletousrightnow,butsomehowwefindawaytosustainMooresLaw,whichpositsadoublingof
processingpowerevery18monthsandwhichsomepredictwillsoonfailtohold.[21]Technologyismovingrapidlyindeed
andmaybelimitednowonlybyourimagination,soitisnotimplausibletothinkanytechnicalchallengesassociatedwith
molecularmanufacturingmightbeeventuallysolved.

Indeed,injustthelastfewmonths,scientistshaveannouncedcreatingablueprintforaninvisibilitycloakessentiallya
heavyblanketcreatedwithnanomaterialsthatcanbend,insteadofreflectordiffuse,lightandotherelectromagnetic
wavesaroundtheobjectcloaked,justaswatermightflowaroundarockinthemiddleofastream.[22](This,too,seems
togiverisetoethicalissuesassociatedonlywithnanotechnology,namelyprivacyandsecurity,ifwearestillinterestedin
identifyinguniqueissues.)Butasrecentlyasearly2006,suchinnovationswouldhavebeenthoughtasmerelyscience
fiction,consignedtofantasyworldssuchasHarryPotters.Again,throughouthistoryandevennow,ideasthathavebeen
dismissedasunworkablesomehowbecomereality,despitetheirtechnicalchallenges,soitisnotirrationaltotreat
molecularmanufacturingasarealpossibilityabsentcompellingevidencetothecontrary.

Furthermore,nomatterhowspeculativesomeofthesescenariosseemtobe,theyprovideausefulplatformtotestour

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moralprinciplesasatleastthoughtexperiments,whichisacommon,acceptedandinvaluablepracticeinethics.For
instance,noonethinksthatanyonewouldplausiblybekidnappedandsurgicallyconnectedtoafamousviolinistthe
prematuredetachmentofwhomwouldleadtotheviolinistsdeathbutthishypotheticalexampleisolatesandtestsout
intuitionsinJudithJarvisThomsonsdiscussionaboutthemoralpermissibilityofabortion.[23]

Also,fewactuallyquestionthewisdomofsendingspidersintoouterspaceonthegroundsthatspidersdonotexistand
mayneverexistinspace(unlessweintroducethemintospace)yetthisisusefultostudytherelationshipbetween
gravityandaspidersabilitytoorientitselfandspinwebsbyisolatinggravityasavariable.Asitappliesto
nanotechnology,evenifcyberneticpeopleneverexist,thepossibilityofhumanenhancementprovidesaplatformto
exploreintuitionsrelatedtohumandignity,personalidentityandotherconcepts.

Givenallthiscontroversy,itshouldalsobenosurprisethatthequestionsinnanoethicsseemilldefinedascomparedto,
say,ethicalquestionsindecodingthehumangenome,assomecriticshavepointedout.[24]Nanotechnologyitselfis
fracturedintodifferentapproachesorphilosophies,eachofwhichraisesitownquestionsso,untilthereisaconsensus
onwhatnanotechnologyisandwillbe,itwillbedifficulttogainaconsensusonaplausiblesetofissuesfornanoethics.
Moreover,theoverlapofnanotechnologywithotherdisciplinesandtheoverlapofnanoethicswithbioethicsandother
areascontributestothischallenge.


5.Nanoethics:ASymposium

Thatsaid,itisstillimportanttolookatbothneartermandspeculativeissuesinnanoethics,forreasonspreviouslystated.
InthisspecialvolumeofInternationalJournalofAppliedPhilosophy,wewillpresentpapersonsomeofthemostexciting
ethicaldebatesemergingfromdevelopmentsinnanotechnology.

First,acoreconceptinthecurrentcontroversyaboutnanotechnologysEHSrisks,aswellasotherdebates,istheso
calledprecautionaryprinciple.Thisprincipleadvisesthatweerronthesideofcautionandproceedslowlyifanaction
mightplausiblyleadtodevastatingconsequencesasmanyseeinatleastsomeapplicationsofnanotechnology.Yet
thereisdisagreementonhowstrongthisprincipleisandwhetheritevenmakessenseorisreasonable.Ourfirstpaper,
ThePrecautionaryPrincipleinNanotechnologybyJohnWeckertandJamesMoor,defendsthisprinciplefromkey
criticisms.

Relatedly,someorganizationsarecallingforincreasedregulationsandevenamoratoriumonnanotechnologyresearch,
asawaytomitigateEHSrisksortobuymoretimeuntilwecansufficientlyaddressthoserisks.Thisdebateunderscores
thelackofspecificregulationstogovernnanotechnologybeyondexistinglawsthatwerenotdesignedwith
nanotechnologyinmind.Oursecondpaper,IntroducingStandardsofCareintheCommercializationofNanotechnology
byVivianWeil,offersaframeworkfornanotechnologyresearchersandstakeholderstoproceedresponsibly.

BeyondEHSconcernsinnanotechnology,oneofthemorepressingandneartermissuesinnanoethicswillbecentered
onprivacy.Oneoftheimmediateimpactsnanotechnologycanmakeistominiaturizedevicesthroughtheuseofsmaller
electroniccomponents,forexample.Butthisfeaturefeedsworriesthatnanotechnology,asothernewtechnologiesare
nowalsodoing,willcreatesurveillanceandeavesdroppingsystemsthatwillbeevenmoredifficulttodetect.Ourthird
paper,NanotechnologyandPrivacy:theInstructiveCaseofRFIDbyJeroenvandenHoven,drawslessonsfromtodays
radiofrequencyidentitychips(RFID)anemergingtechnologythatpromisestomakebusinessesmoreefficientand
productive,butalsoholdsseriousprivacyimplicationstohelpguideourthinkingaboutasimilarclassofdevicesthat
nanotechnologyispredictedtocreateinthenearfuture.

Asamidtermissue,nanotechnologyisexpectedtoplayacrucialroleinhumanenhancement,ortheaugmentingof
humancapabilitiessuchasstrength,sight,hearing,memoryandlongevitythroughtechnology.Whilesomeembrace
thenotionofbecomingmorethanhumanorseetechnologyasawaytorealizeourfullpotentialashumans,othersfear
thatpossibilitywillturnuslessthanhumanorpervertthenotionofhumandignity.Ourfourthpaper,AlteringtheBody:
NanotechnologyandHumanNaturebyRobinZebrowski,criticizesacentralbeliefheldbyopponentsofhuman
enhancementthatthereissomestandardbodyfromwhichweshouldnotdiverge.

Andatamoredistantpointinourfuture,nanotechnologyisexpectedtoaccelerateworkinartificialintelligence,with
innovationssuchasincreasedprocessingspeed,increasedmemory,quantumcomputingandmore.Ourfifthandfinal
paper,NanoEnabledAI:SomePhilosophicalIssuesbyJ.StorrsHall,discussesthepossibilityofintentionalityinformal
systemsaswellasmachinesasmoralagents.

Again,someofthesesoundlikefamiliarissues,butinthecontextofnanotechnology,wenowhaveanexpandedand
increasinglyplausibleplatformtodiscussthesematters.Forinstance,withnanotechnology,thepossibilityofintelligent
machinesnowseemslessfantasticandmorereal,makingourthinkingaboutitsimplicationslessfrivolousandmore
relevanttotherealworld.

Thesepapersalsocertainlydonotaddresseveryrelevantissuein,say,privacyorhumanenhancement,buttheygivea
senseofthedepthanddiversityofethicalandsocialissuesinnanotechnology.Otherissuesinnanoethicsincludesuch
areasasresearchethics,environment,nanomedicine,intellectualpropertylaws,globalequity,economics,politics,
nationalsecurity,education,lifeextensionandspaceexploration.[25]

Finally,thesepapersinthisvolumedonotnecessarilyreflecttheviewpointsoftheeditorsorpublisher,butonlyoftheir
authors,whomwethankfortheircontribution.WealsowouldliketothankeditorinchiefElliotCohenforproposingthis
symposiumandinvitingustoeditthecollection,oneofthefirstofitskind.Asnanoethicsgainsmomentum,wehopeto
seemoreindustryexperts,academicsandthebroaderpublicengagedinthiscriticalfieldhelpingtoguidescienceand
humanitytoabetterfuture.

ABOUTUS

TheNanoethicsGroupisanonpartisanandindependentresearchorganizationformedtostudynanotechnologysimpact
onsocietyandrelatedethicalissues.Asprofessionalethicists,wehelptoidentifyandevaluatepossibleharmsand
conflictsaswellastobringbalanceandcommonsensetothedebate.Ourmissionistoeducateandadviseboth
organizationsandthebroaderpublicontheseissuesasafoundationtoguidepolicyandresponsibleresearch.Formore
information,pleasevisitwww.nanoethics.org.

REFERENCES

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[2]NationalNanotechnologyInitiative:LeadingtotheNextIndustrialRevolution,areportpublishedbyUSNational
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[3]AdamKeiper,TheNanotechnologyRevolution,TheNewAtlantis,Summer2003,issue2:19.

[4]RobertA.Freitas,Jr.Nanomedicine,TheScientificConquestofDeath:EssaysonInfiniteLifespans,SebastianSethe
(ed.),pp.7792,BuenosAires:LibrosEnRed,2004.
[5]K.EricDrexler,EnginesofCreation,pp.14,5863,NewYork:AnchorBooks,1986.

[6]KathieODonnell,Procter&GambleEyesNanotech,MarketWatch,January25,2006.

[7]KyleJames,BASFSetsAside$221millionforNanoR&D,OpensAsianCenter,SmallTimes,March20,2006.

[8]NanomixandUCBerkeleyAnnounceENoseDetectionCollaboration,apressreleaseissuedbyNanomix,Inc.,March
16,2006.

[9]KiHunJeong,JaeyounKimandLukeP.Lee,BiologicallyInspiredArtificialCompoundEyes,Science,April28,2006,

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[10]VivekMaheshwariandRaviF.Saraf,HighResolutionThinFilmDevicetoSenseTexturebyTouch,Science,June9,
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[11]RichardA.L.Jones,HollowCentre,Nature,April20,2006,vol.440,issue7087:995.

[12]SorenHolm,DoesNanotechnologyRequireaNewNanoethics?,apaperpublishedbyCardiffCentreforEthics,Law
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[13]PhilipBall,2003:NanotechnologyintheFiringLine,Nanotechweb.org,December23,2003.

[14]B.DevikaChithrani,ArezouA.Ghazani,andWarrenC.W.Chan,DeterminingtheSizeandShapeDependenceof
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[15]YuryGogotsi,HowSafeareNanotubesandOtherNanofilaments?,MaterialResearchInnovations,August2003,
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[16]VickiColvinandMarkWiesner,EnvironmentalImplicationsofNanotechnology:ProgressinDevelopingFundamental
ScienceasaBasisforAssessment,akeynotepresentationdeliveredattheUSEPAsNanotechnologyandthe
Environment:ApplicationsandImplicationsSTARReviewProgressWorkshopinArlington,Virginia,August28,2002.
[17]U.S.NationalNanotechnologyInitiativewebsite,accessedonJune6,2006:
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[18]MaryannLawlor,SmallMatters,SignalMagazine/AFCEA,July2005,p.47.

[19]Othermethodsalsoexisttocreatecarbonnanotubes,e.g.,usinghighpressuregasorelectricityorlasers,butthey
donotchangethepointherethatexistingmethodsareradicallydifferentandlessprecisethanmolecularmanufacturing.

[20]OntheJob:3DPrintingGivesFootwearCompanyaLegUponCompetition,apaperpublishedbyEngineering&
ManufacturingServices,Inc.,February10,2006.

[21]VictorZhirnov,RalphCavin,JamesHutchbyandGeorgeBourianoff,LimitstoBinaryLogicSwitchScalingA
GedankenModel,ProceedingsoftheIEEE,November2003,vol.91,no.11:19349.

[22]J.B.Pendry,D.SchurigandD.R.Smith,ControllingElectromagneticFields,ScienceExpress,May25,2006,
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[23]JudithJarvisThomson,ADefenseofAbortion,PhilosophyandPublicAffairs,1971vol.1,no.1:4766.

[24]RichardHarris,Nanotechnology:MoreThanJustaBuzzword?,apresentationdeliveredatUniversityofCalifornia,
SantaBarbara,CenterforNanotechnologyandSociety,May4,2006.

[25]Formoreaboutnanoethicsandtheseissues,pleasesee:FritzAllhoff,PatrickLin,JamesMoor,JohnWeckert(eds).,
Nanoethics:TheEthicalandSocialImplicationsofNanotechnology(forthcoming,Wiley).




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