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Nano Ethics and the Future

The futuristic dimensions of nanotech along with nanobiotech lead us to project scenarios and then evaluate them according to ethical criteria. Techno futurists operate according to what I call the understanding-decision-control (u-d-c) formula. The first task is to understand the direction current trends are taking us. In this case, we need to project the possible future scenarios nano research will bring about. Such understanding includes distinguishing between desirable and undesirable futures. This is where ethical deliberation helps us distinguish what we should pursue, what we should avoid, and where to urge caution. The second task is decision - that is, we make the decision now to pursue the technological scenario most likely leading to the most desirable future. The third task is to take control of what is projected to happen, in order to aid and abet a positive future becoming actualized. Control, of course, can be an elusive phantom; yet making decisions in pursuit of control is intrinsic to future planning.

The basic contribution an ethicist can make belongs at stage one, envisioning a better future and setting the moral criteria for determining what counts as a better future. A second contribution is to urge caution where caution is warranted. Nano speculation is rife with wild-eyed and enticing scenarios, especially for medical therapy and human enhancement. So we need to ask: what counts ethically as we compare various scenarios? The field of nano ethics today sees its task as shouldering moral responsibility for what should happen tomorrow.

Email link | Printer-friendly | Feedback | Contributed by: Ted Peters

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