Cultural Diversity in Nanotechnology Ethics

  • Joachim Schummer

Within the space of less than a decade, nanotechnology has emerged as a major technological theme not only across most of the science and engineering disciplines, but also across most of the world, including in many developing countries in Asia, South America, and Africa. Because they have identified great economic potential, or simply because they have not wanted to lag behind, governments around the globe have launched nanotechnology programs and initiatives and promoted nanobusiness alliances to harvest the fruits of the “next industrial revolution”. This perhaps unprecedented global technological movement has been fostered by exaggerated promises that nanotechnology will fundamentally change society, that it will bring the wealth, health, clean environment and security of which we have all dreamt. At the same time, however, warning voices have argued that such a powerful technology could also bring about unparalleled harm to the world, from environmental hazards to the destruction of all life. And so the ethicists and philosophers have been called in.

My involvement in discussions of the ethical and societal implications of nano-technology has been developing since 2002, through attending and organizing conferences that have grown rapidly from small-scale meetings to large international events, and through sitting on boards and expert groups to advise others on these matters. There is little doubt that ethical reflection has been unable to keep up with the pace of globalization of the nanotechnology movement. Unlike research in nanotechnology, perception of ethical issues surrounding nanotechnology is influenced by the specificities of cultural background, to the extent that, for instance, some countries heavily involved in research do not see any such issues at all. All this causes misunderstandings and contributes to the reinforcement of cultural clichés, which need to be overcome by in-depth discussion. As nanotechnology turns global


Ethical Issue Cultural Diversity Industrial Revolution Ethical Relativism Engineering Ethic 
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© Springer Science+Business Media, B.V. 2009

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  • Joachim Schummer

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