One of the consequences of the rapid progress now being made in nanotechnology is that we are becoming inescapably enmeshed in a host of very tricky ethical issues
Nanoethics: The ethical and social implications of nanotechnology
F Allhoff, P Lin, J Moor and J Weckert (eds)
Hoboken, New Jersey, US: Wiley-Interscience 2007 | 385pp | ?21.00 (SB) ISBN 9780470084175
Reviewed by Dennis Rouvray
One of the consequences of the rapid progress now being made in nanotechnology is that we are becoming inescapably enmeshed in a host of very tricky ethical issues. To understand why this should be so, consider the following not entirely unrealistic scenario.
Nanodevices are developed that can replace diseased tissue in human beings and do it so well that the sick can be completely restored to health. Lifespans can thereby be extended indefinitely with the end result that immortality is achievable through chemistry.
Now what about the ethics of such a development? Should everybody be allowed to live for ever? And if only certain people are to be accorded this privilege, how are they to be selected? More worryingly, could ruthless dictators exploit this new technology to carry on their despotic rule for centuries? Will nanodevices be added to our water supply that are able to monitor and perhaps even control our thought processes? The latter questions relate to instances of the abuse of nanotechnology and this book affords us with many other examples.
The good news is that such troubling scenarios are fictional at the moment though the bad news is that some of them at least may be only a few decades away. No fewer than 35 authors have contributed to this book, half of them coming from a science background while the remainder are comprised of futurologists, philosophers and ethicists. Their arguments are clear and well formed and they write with some passion.
Whereas the early chapters tend to focus on the anticipated benefits of nanotechnology, such as the use of nanodevices to clean up our environment, the later chapters become increasingly scary as they begin to delve into the numerous possible misuses of nanotechnology. What actually happens in the next few decades remains to be seen, but that nanotechnology will feature prominently cannot be doubted.
This book is essential reading for everyone connected in any way with nanotechnology - and that means all of us!