Nanoscience and Nanoethics

In Engineering Bodies of War, ITP

REsponse To Reading

Lin and Allhoff’s piece, Nanoscience and Nanoethics: Defining the Disciplines, is a great introduction into the subject of nanoscience and the potential implications of such advancements in technology. Nanotechnology is not only relevant to our course because of the clear implications on technological and biological enhancement (i.e. functional impact on civilians and military) and the surrounding ethics, but also because of the uncertainty of dealing with things at the nano scale. For example, the authors explain how aluminum is used ubiquitously to make soda cans but when in it’s fine power form, it can create violent explosions when in contact with the air. Another interesting one is when you scale carbon down to the super strong carbon nanotubes. It creates a material that is 100 times stronger than steel and 1/6th the weight; however, research cited in the article explains that carbon nanotubes could be the next asbestos because of their whisker-like shape, which makes it very difficult for people to purge them from their lungs. This layer of the immediate scientific/biological effects of nanotech creates an even more complex system of ethical questions that we must ask ourselves.`


Lin and Allhoff’s main argument is to treat nanoscience, and in turn, nanoethics as a discipline in it’s own right. The other school of thought is that nanoscience is a by-product of policy from the Clinton administration and is simply an intersection of existing disciplines like biology, chemistry or engineering. I’d like to make the argument that nanoethics should be recognized as it’s own discipline but that it does not need to be intrinsically tied to the acceptance of nanoscience by the scientific community. Whether you believe nanoscience is it’s own discipline or not, it does not change that fact that millions of dollars are being invested into the field by governments and the private sector. And scientists are still breaking ground in nanoscience, whether they identify themselves specifically with nanoscience or another discipline. The only distinguishable difference is whether the ethics surrounding nanoscience can gain enough awareness to justify funding and further research if it is not recognized as it’s own field. To that end, if it is necessary to create the field of nanoethics to receive funding to further explore the topic, than I don’t see the need to package it in within the greater debate of whether nanoscience is it’s own discipline. I believe the authors made a strong enough case for nanoethics to stand on it’s own even if the scientific community still sees nanoscience as a subset of one or several acknowledged sciences. To reinforce this point, I’ll simply look to Lin and Allhoff’s reference of those who acknowledge Bill Clinton as the “father of nanotechnology.” If nanoscience is some what, if not entirely, a political construct, than justifying the legitimacy of a by-product from said construct to policy makers should not be an issue.


Interview questions for this week’s panel

  1. (Vasquez) – If the advancements in technology that further distances soldiers from their enemies combined with little understanding of local language and culture makes armed forces less equipped for dealing with low-intensity warfare and guerilla fighters, than what sort of intelligence training for troops do you see as being most effective for dealing with guerilla-style conflicts that are becoming far more common. Has there been any progress in this area that you know of since your active duty?
  2. (Vasquez) – We’ve covered some reading that explains how drone operators, who view warfare through a digital filter, actually deal with similar rates of PTSD as soldiers on the ground. I realize it’s very different situation, but what do you think the effect of technologies that distance soldiers on the ground from the people they are engaging with have on the trauma experienced by the soldier?
  3. (Baca/McDonald) – In Baca’s piece in the Village Voice, Roman describes the difficulties of assimilating back to civilian life. It seems like things started getting better once he decided to start his own dance company. To Roman and Brian, what is it about the arts and performance that can help soldiers adapt back to civilian life?


Interview questions from last week

  1. (McDonnell) – Both advances in robotic weaponry and the threat posed by non-state actors, like terrorist organizations, seem to make International Law like the Geneva Conventions less and less relevant. Since each country tends to interpret these international agreements as much to their convenience as possible, what do you think could effectively encourage or force the US and it’s allies to meet your call to restrict targeted killings only to scenarios where suspected terrorists pose an imminent threat to the US, allied troops or civilians?
  2. (Miller) – With technology becoming more and more integrated into the fabric of our lives, a trend that I do not see reversing, what are some examples of practical steps that one could take to be more responsible as a technology consumer?
  3. (Asaro) I fully support the human right not to be killed by a machine, and under that right, I wanted to know what you see as the minimum amount of human involvement necessary to not be in violation of that. Also, what sort of traction have you achieved on this front with the ICRAC?


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