The Dilemma of Nanotechnology – Science Vs. Ethics

Posted on 10. Feb, 2009 by in medical ethics

Tatiana Velitchkov asked:

What is Nanotechnology and why should I care about it?

Nanotechnology, referred to commonly as molecular manufacturing, is making huge strides within scientific and government communities. Despite its growth and the potential impact it will have on society at large, too little emphasis has been placed on the ethical considerations of nanotechnology and the ever-rippling effects of its applications.

The control of molecular matter has led to amazing breakthroughs in medical treatments, which of course is a benefit to mankind. However, the military is hard at work creating powerful weapons that are no larger than any known bacteria. In addition, molecular level surveillance techniques for surreptitiously keeping track of other organizations and individuals are changing the face of military, law enforcement and humankind in general.

Just like with human genome capability and stem cell research breakthroughs, scientists, governments and individuals need to weigh the obvious advantages of nanotechnology against the residual disadvantages. Although the power of nanotechnology is indisputable, the possibilities of irreversible harm from its indiscriminate use must also be taken into consideration.

What are the Social and Ethical Implications of Nanotechnology?

This is where social and ethical dilemmas present themselves. As life saving tools, nanotechnology is unsurpassed in its promise of an absolute revolution for medical treatment of previously incurable or untreatable conditions.

Conversely, when this technology is used to manufacture miniature weapons or explosives the infinite possibilities of far-reaching repercussions is a very real prospect. Given that researchers fear that nano-machines can become self replicating, theories abound that their by-product, known in scientific circles as “the gray-goo scenario”, could result in unheard of havoc. In addition nanotechnology has the potential to erode our privacy and freedom by providing human rights violations via monitoring and tracking devices that can invade our everyday lives without our knowledge.

For this reason the social and ethical issues relevant to nanotechnology must be addressed before its many technological innovations are unleashed upon society.

Every action has a reaction and nanotechnology is no different. Whether the anticipated power of nanotechnology ever reaches fruition, as a society we must be prepared to deal with any fallout that may arise from its inception and universal acceptance.

There is no doubt that development of nanotechnology and its many proven advantages, is going to continue, yet as a responsible society we must prepare a social policy that will address the benefits in correlation with the ethical consequences of it effect on life as we know it. Why should society be concerned with the Fallout?

When trying to incorporate nano-technological advances into society, there are a myriad of items that require intensive study, such as: issues regarding equity of disbursement, privacy rights of individuals and/or corporations, security considerations, the effect on the environment and the social and ethical impact on the human race.

As responsible humans who are concerned with passing a legacy of improvement down to upcoming generations, it is essential that we develop and create guidelines and working hypotheses that address the far reaching impact that nanotechnology can have on human lives and on the universe itself.

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