Past experience has shown that the successful introduction of a new technology requires careful attention to the interactions between the technology and society. These interactions are bi-directional: on the one hand, technology changes and challenges social patterns and, on the other hand, the governance structures and values of the society affect progress in developing the technology. Nanotechnology is likely to be particularly affected by these kinds of interactions because of its great promise and the unusually early public attention it has received. Moreover, it represents a new kind of experiment in packaging a rather wide range of fundamental research activities under a single “mission-like” umbrella. Although this gives it more impetus as a field, it sets a higher bar for showing successful applications early on and because it links disparate fields, regulatory regimes reasonable for one kind of nanotechnology development may be inappropriately extended to others. There are a number of lessons to be gleaned from experience with the introduction of other technologies, which offer guidance with respect to what pitfalls to avoid and what issues to be sensitive to as we move forward with the development of nanotechnology applications. The problems encountered by nuclear power point out the dangers of over-promising and the role the need for the technology plays in ameliorating fears of risk. The public reaction to biomedical engineering and biotechnology highlights, in addition, the cultural factors that come into play when technologies raise questions about what is “natural” and what is “foreign” and what conceptions are involved in defining “personhood”. In all cases, it has been clear that a main task for those introducing new technology is building public trust-in the safety of the technologies and the integrity of those introducing it. The advocates of nanotechnology have already shown that they are generally aware of the need to consider the public’s reaction, and they have taken the first steps to act on that awareness. We have to build on those beginnings, not limiting our considerations simply to issues of safety. If we do so well, we have the opportunity to develop a new paradigm for technology introduction, which will serve society well in the future.
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- Nanotechnology and society
Kenneth H. Keller
- Springer Netherlands
in-adhesives, MKVS, Nordson/© Nordson, ViscoTec/© ViscoTec, Hellmich GmbH/© Hellmich GmbH