Nanotechnology is actually a fairly new idea. This may not seem like any big deal in terms of ethics, but just like any type of scientific advancement there are positives and negatives. Of course the ethical issues don't stem out of just the fact that this is a new kind of science. It branches off of "what will this new scientific technology be used for?" For example, Embryonic Stem Cell research. It's not the research that's bad it's how they get the cells. There are half a dozen, maybe more, different places to get the same type of cells without taking the life of that unborn child.
The term, Nanotechnology, was first introduced back in the mid 1970's by a Japanese researcher named Norio Taniguchi to mean "
precision machinery with tolerance of a micrometer or less" (Kilner 55-56). In the 1986 book by Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation, he brought the word and it's concept in to the public's thought. In Layman's terms the basic idea of Nanotechnology is to make little tiny atomic size robots that can be called upon to do whatever we want them to do. Similar to having a little computer and telling it carry out an assigned task like empty the recycle bin, or something of that sort. Or in this case telling the little robot to float around in a persons body and switch out a section of DNA so that the person's eyes are green instead of brown. Just so we know how small this a strand of DNA is 2.3 nanometers wide or if you divided a meter stick into 1 billion sections it would be 2.3 sections wide.
In many of the sciences with Nanotechnology being no exception to the rules the ethical issues are much further behind the actual research that is taking place. For some reason the research of hazards with this technology are also far behind. But isn't that just typical of scientists? I mean here's a group of scientists, some of the smartest men in their field of study and they automatically take the positives without any consideration for negatives. That just seems typical of the human race in general. If it helps someone then it must be good, who cares how many people we kill.
At the Rice University Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology (CBEN) they were stunned to discover that there had been no research in developing a risk assessment or toxicology model for synthetic nanomaterials. Like-wise and Just as important there have been no tests to see how these nanomaterials react or are affected by living systems, such as humans. Of the $700 million in funding that the National Nanotechnology Institute (NNI) received in 2003, less than $500,000 was spent on the study of how Nanotechnology could affect the environment. But typical to today's culture the immediate payback doesn't come from risk studies, as it does from how we can potentially cure diseases. When in the long run a little robot just might be able to cause a disease. Just as much as the public wants to know the risks the scientists working on the project have even more to lose from a fear of the unknown (Colvin).
Along with these risks will come an entire set of ethical dilemmas. So how can we set rules so that free lance researchers or government scientists don't do something that the whole world might regret? One of the first guidelines which was set by the Foresight Institute, founded by Drexler, and supported by the non-profit organization Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) is "Nanotechnology's highest and best use should be to create a world of abundance where no one is lacking for their basic needs. Those needs include adequate food, safe water, a clean environment, housing, medical care, education, public safety, fair labor, unrestricted travel, artistic expression and freedom from fear and oppression" (Ethics of Nanotechnology). If we know just a little about the life of Christ he once said that there would always be problems like this in the world, hunger, poor, oppressed , etc.
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