Anticipating ethical changes: is there a coming era of nanotechnology?

Horner, David (2005) Anticipating ethical changes: is there a coming era of nanotechnology? Ethics and Information Technology, 7 (3). pp. 127-138. ISSN 1572-8439

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In this paper I question the claims made for a ‘coming era of nanotechnology’ and the ethical challenges, it is argued, that are entailed by this particular technological revolution. I argue that such futurist claims are sustained by an untenable modernist narrative which separates the technical and the social. This is exemplified by the work of K. Eric Drexler and his claim that whilst the course of scientific knowledge may remain unpredictable we nevertheless can predict with accuracy the trajectory of technology and particularly the emergence of nanotechnology. The problem then, on the basis of knowledge about the future state of technology, is to make choices now which will forestall unintended and undesirable consequences. Firstly, the paper argues for a radical scepticism towards all forms of forecasting or prediction but especially technological forecasting of the type exemplified in the debate around nanotechnology. Secondly, given this radical scepticism the paper criticises the idea that a prospective ethics can be created on the basis of an assessment of consequences of nanotechnology.

Item Type: Journal article
Additional Information: The original publication is available at
Uncontrolled Keywords: Computer ethic, Consequentialism, Forecasting, Futurology, Nanotechnology, Prediction
Subjects: G000 Computing and Mathematical Sciences
L000 Social Sciences > L300 Sociology
DOI (a stable link to the resource): 10.1007/s10676-006-0006-2
Faculties: Faculty of Science and Engineering > School of Computing, Engineering and Mathematics > Social Informatics
Depositing User: Helen Webb
Date Deposited: 12 Nov 2007
Last Modified: 24 Mar 2015 12:30

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