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

David Horner

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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.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)127-138
Number of pages12
JournalEthics and Information Technology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2005

Bibliographical note

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  • Computer ethic, Consequentialism, Forecasting, Futurology, Nanotechnology, Prediction


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