Converging technologies diverging values navigating nbic through turbulent waters
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Converging Technologies, Diverging Values: Navigating NBIC Through Turbulent Waters. Davis Baird, University of South Carolina, Department of Philosophy & NanoCenter Support from National Science Foundation & University of South Carolina: College of Liberal Arts, NanoCenter, Office of Research.

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Converging Technologies, Diverging Values: Navigating NBIC Through Turbulent Waters

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Converging technologies diverging values navigating nbic through turbulent waters

Converging Technologies,Diverging Values:Navigating NBIC Through Turbulent Waters

Davis Baird, University of South Carolina, Department of Philosophy & NanoCenter

Support from National Science Foundation & University of South Carolina: College of Liberal Arts, NanoCenter, Office of Research


Starting with two images

Starting with two images


Metaphors for a dynamic world

Metaphors for a Dynamic World

  • We need better dynamic metaphors for thinking about and taking action with respect to…

    • The nanoscale

    • NBIC convergence

    • Socio-nano-technological change

    • Ethical engagement with all of the above


Five kinds of unification

Five Kinds of Unification

  • Unified science

  • Unified engineered and natural devices

  • Unified humanity

  • Unified control of research

  • Unified ethics

  • Each is easy to refute, yet each captures a kernel of truth


Unified science

Unified Science

  • NBIC calls for unifying bioscience, information science and cognitive science as material extensions of nanoscience

  • Not a philosopher’s “unified science”

  • Unification should allow for rapid fruitful synergistic exchange between biologists, physicists, chemists and engineers—combating disciplinary isolation

  • It could also challenge the “guild-like” expertise of specific scientific disciplines


Bio mimesis

Bio-mimesis

  • Unifying the natural and the engineered

  • Designing and Building engines following natural examples

  • Some differences will be hard to avoid

    • Evolutionary history, function, telos and the intentions of designers


Unified humanity resistance is futile

Unified Humanity Resistance is futile

  • “It is hard to find the right metaphor to see a century into the future, but it may be that humanity would become like a single, distributed and interconnected ‘brain’ based in new core pathways of society.”

  • “From local groups of linked enhanced individuals to a global collective intelligence, key new capabilities would arise from relationships created with NBIC technologies.”

  • “The Borg” vs. enhanced individuals

  • While clearly confused we are moving ahead in this direction


Centralized and unified research organization

Centralized and unified research organization

  • “[I]t is not enough to wait patiently while scientists and engineers do their traditional work”

  • “[T]he contributors to this report recommend a national research and development priority area on converging technologies focused on enhancing human performance. … [T]he role of government is important because no other participant can cover the breadth and level of required collective effort. Without special efforts for coordination and integration, the path of science might not lead to the fundamental unification envisioned here.”

  • Do we gain efficiency by directing research?


Nano and nbic initiatives invite ethics

Nano and NBIC initiatives invite ethics

  • “Ethical, legal, moral, economic, environmental, workforce development, and other societal implications must be addressed from the beginning, …. Research on societal implications must be funded, ….”


But unified ethics

But unified ethics

  • Foregone conclusion:“Perhaps wholly new ethical principles will govern in areas of radical technological advance, such as the acceptance of brain implants, ….”

  • Optimistic consensus: “The ability to control the genetics of humans, animals, and agricultural plants will greatly benefit human welfare; widespread consensus about ethical, legal, and moral issues will be built in the process”

  • The prime difficulty for the converging technologies program—at least in the US—will be to allow for vigorous healthy debate. Ethics may not be unified.


Socio nano technological change

Socio-Nano-Technological Change

  • We need to create the “Research on societal implications [that] must be funded”

  • What should such research look like?

  • “It is hard to find the right metaphor to see a century into the future, but it may be that humanity would become like a single, distributed and interconnected ‘brain’ based in new core pathways of society.”

  • What about a century into the past…


Two images

Two images


Two more images

Two more images


Three ways for ethics to engage technological change

Three Ways for Ethics to Engage Technological Change

  • One: 1933 Chicago World’s Fair:

    • Science Discovers, Technology Applies, Man Conforms

  • Two: Ethicist as Expert Consultant

    • Measuring the goodness of technology

  • Three; Ethicist as Mediator of a Complex Field


Constructive mediation

Constructive Mediation

  • Curiosity—The “organic necessity” to technological development: That which is technically sweet is irresistible.

  • Capital—The “economic necessity” to competitive capitalism: Death for the timid—or too prudent.

  • Principle—Individual & social rights: what we ought to do; the prudential principle: avoid unnecessary risks.

  • Facts—Facts on the ground are a force in themselves; contextualized facts are a different kind of force: Which facts, pursued by whom, for whose benefit?

  • Limited resources—capital, intellectual, workforce—constrain and direct action

  • Politics—the art of acting with what is possible

  • Tradition—cultural, religious or simply historical—that can act as a kind of sea anchor to rapid change


Nanotechnologies are coming but we will jointly define them as they arrive

Nanotechnologies are coming, but we will jointly define them as they arrive

  • Collectively, distributing our expertise and interests, we will navigate society toward better nanotechnologies.

  • By learning to talk and listen to each other

  • Constructively changing how we understand nanotechnologies as we create them

  • A dynamic process; not static “nano-ethics”


Key roles for humanists

Key roles for humanists

  • They will create constructive communication pathways

  • They will grease these pathways with new concepts that allow appropriate unification and diversity

  • Pathways that provide for vigorous ethical debate

  • Pathways that bring our understanding of new technologies along with the devices

  • Creating smooth technological transitions


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