Friday, November 24, 2006

Is there such a thing as a 'safe technology'?

[This is the pre-edited text of my latest muse for Nature, which relates to a paper published in the 16 November issue on health and safety issues in nanotechnology.]

Discussions about the risk of emerging technologies must acknowledge that their major impacts have rarely been spotted in advance.

In today's issue of Nature, an international team of scientists presents a five-point scheme for "the safe handling of nanotechnology"[1]. "If the global research community can rise to the challenges we have set", they say, "then we can surely look forward to the advent of safe nanotechnologies".

The five targets that the team sets for addressing potential health risks of nanotechnologies are excellent ones, involving the assessment of toxicities, prediction of impacts on the environment, and establishment of a general strategy for risk-focused research. In particular, the goals are aimed at determining the risks of engineered nanoparticles – how they might enter and move in the environment, to what extent humans might be exposed, and what the consequences of that will be. We need to know all these things with some urgency.

But what is a "safe technology"? According to this criterion, manufacturing nuclear warheads would be "safe" if no human was exposed to dangerous levels of radiation in the process that leads from centrifuge to silo.

To be fair, no one denies that a technology's 'safety' depends on how it is used. The proposals for mapping nanotech's risks are clearly aimed at a very specific aspect of the overall equation, concerned only with the fundamental issues of whether (and how much) exposure to nanotechnological products is bad for our health. But it highlights the curious circumstance that new technologies now seem required to carry out a risk assessment at their inception, ideally in parallel with public consultation and engagement to decide what should and shouldn't be permitted.

There is no harm in that. And there's plenty of scope for being creative about it. Some of the broader ethical issues associated with nanotech, for example, are being explored in the US through a series of public seminars organized by the public-education company ICAN Productions. Funded by the US National Science Foundation, ICAN is creating three one-hour seminars in which participants, including scientists, business leaders and members of the public, explore scenarios that illuminate plausible impacts of nanotech on daily life. The results will be presented on US television by Oregon Public Broadcasting in spring of 2007.

Yet history must leave us with little confidence that either research programs or public debates will anticipate all, or even the major, social impacts of a new technology. We smile now at how anyone believed that road safety could be addressed by having every automobile preceded by a man waving a red flag. In those early days, the pollution caused by cars was barely on the agenda, while the notion that this might affect global climate would have seemed positively bizarre.

Of course, it is something of a cliché now to say that neither the internal combustion engine nor smoking would ever have been permitted if we knew then what we know now about their dangers. But the point is that we never do – it is hard to identify any important technology for which the biggest risks have been clear in advance.

And even if some of them are, scientists generally lose the ability to do anything about it once the technology reacts with society. Nuclear proliferation was forecast and feared by many of the Manhattan Project physicists, but politicians and generals treated their proposals for avoiding it with contempt (give away secrets to the Russians, indeed!). It took no deep understanding of evolution to foresee the emergence of antibiotic-resistant bacteria, but that didn't prevent profligate over-prescription of the drugs. The dangers of global warming have been known since at least the 1980s, and… well, say no more.

In the case of nanotechnology, there have been discussions of, for example, its likelihood of increasing the gap between rich and poor nations, its impacts on surveillance and privacy, and the social effects of nanotech-enhanced longevity. These are all noble attempts to look beyond the pure science, but it's not at all clear that they will turn out to be the most relevant issues.

Part of the impetus for aiming to address the 'risks' of nanotech so early in the game comes from a fear that potentially valuable applications could be derailed by a public backlash like that which led to a rejection in Europe of genetically modified organisms – some (though by no means all) of which resulted from a general lack of information or understanding about the technology, as well as an arrogant assumption of consumer acquiescence.

The GMO experience has sensitized scientists to the need for early public engagement, and again that is surely a good thing. It's also encouraging to find scientists and even industries hurrying along governments to do more to support research into safety issues, and to draft regulations.

What they must avoid, however, is giving the impression that emerging technologies are like toys that can be 'made safe' before being handed to a separate entity called society to play with as it will. Technologies are one of the key drivers of social change, for better or worse. They simply do not exist in isolation of the society that generates them. Not only can we not foresee all their consequences, but some of those consequences aren't present even in principle until culture, sociology, economics and politics (not to mention faith) enter the arena.

Some technologies are no doubt intrinsically 'safer' or 'riskier' than others. But the more powerful they are, the less able we are to distinguish which is which, or to predict how that will play out in practice. Let's by all means look for obvious dangers at the outset – but scientists must also look for ways to become more engaged in the shaping of a technology as it unfolds, while dismantling the now-pervasive notion that all innovations must come with a 'risk-free' label.

1. Maynard, A. et al. Nature 444, 267 - 269 (2006).


uhfdf said...

歐美a免費線上看,熊貓貼圖區,ec成人,聊天室080,aaa片免費看短片,dodo豆豆聊天室,一對一電話視訊聊天,自拍圖片集,走光露點,123456免費電影,本土自拍,美女裸體寫真,影片轉檔程式,成人視訊聊天,貼圖俱樂部,辣妹自拍影片,自拍電影免費下載,電話辣妹視訊,情色自拍貼圖,卡通做愛影片下載,日本辣妹自拍全裸,美女裸體模特兒,showlive影音聊天網,日本美女寫真,色情網,台灣自拍貼圖,情色貼圖貼片,百分百成人圖片 ,情色網站,a片網站,ukiss聊天室,卡通成人網,3級女星寫真,080 苗栗人聊天室,成人情色小說,免費成人片觀賞,

傑克論壇,維納斯成人用品,免費漫畫,內衣廣告美女,免費成人影城,a漫,國中女孩寫真自拍照片,ut男同志聊天室,女優,網友自拍,aa片免費看影片,玩美女人短片試看片,草莓論壇,kiss911貼圖片區,免費電影,免費成人,歐美 性感 美女 桌布,視訊交友高雄網,工藤靜香寫真集,金瓶梅免費影片,成人圖片 ,女明星裸體寫真,台灣處女貼圖貼片區,成人小遊戲,布蘭妮貼圖片區,美女視訊聊天,免費情色卡通短片,免費av18禁影片,小高聊天室,小老鼠論壇,免費a長片線上看,真愛love777聊天室,聊天ukiss,情色自拍貼圖,寵物女孩自拍網,免費a片下載,日本情色寫真,美女內衣秀,色情網,

liwo said...


女優王國,免費無碼a片,0800a片區,免費線上遊戲,無名正妹牆,成人圖片,寫真美女,av1688影音娛樂網,dodo豆豆聊天室,網拍模特兒,成人文學,免費試看a片,a片免費看,成人情色小說,美腿絲襪,影片下載,美女a片,人體寫真模特兒,熊貓成人貼,kiss情色,美女遊戲區,104 貼圖區,線上看,aaa片免費看影片,天堂情色,躺伯虎聊天室,洪爺情色網,kiss情色網,貼影區,雄貓貼圖,080苗栗人聊天室,都都成人站,尋夢園聊天室,a片線上觀看,無碼影片,情慾自拍,免費成人片,影音城論壇,情色成人,最新免費線上遊戲,a383影音城,美腿,色情寫真,xxx383成人視訊,視訊交友90739,av女優影片,