Nanoethics: fact, fiction and forecasting
Horner, D.S. (2004) Nanoethics: fact, fiction and forecasting In: Proceedings of the Seventh International Conference, Challenges for the Citizen of the Information Society, Ethicomp 2004, Syros, Greece, 14th-16th April 2004.
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Computer Ethics has, as one of its aspirations, that of reducing the probability of the unforeseen and undesirable effects of computer technologies (Rogerson, 2002). The social control of information and communication technology, it is argued, depends on our ability precisely to foresee such undesirable and often unintended effects. We should strive, therefore, to sharpen our forecasting tools. In a recent paper I argued a highly sceptical case that such efforts to accurately predict the future consequences of advances in computer technologies were largely futile (Horner 2003). This claim proved controversial and was greeted itself with a high degree of scepticism. What seems to me a truism seems to others a heresy. The proponents of 'futurism' are reluctant to abandon a commitment to anticipating 'the shape of things to come' as a base for policy formation and the social control of technology. Intuitively it seems perverse perhaps to deny knowledge of the future given that we seem to operate with such knowledge with our every planned action. In this paper I wish to address some of the arguments that seem to sustain a belief in the power and usefulness of prediction in the context of recent anxieties about 'the coming era of nanotechnology'.
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