Human / Machine Interfaces – Nanotechnology as an Enabling Technology and the Moral and Ethical Considerations

Topics Covered

Background

Monitoring and Diagnosis of Disease and Treatment with Nanomedicine

Ethical Considerations Associated with Machine Nano Interfaces

Moral ands Ethical Considerations Associated with Nanotechnology For Disease Diagnosis

Background

Probably one of the most contentious issues is the development of the human: machine interface. Society must determine at the earliest stage whether it has the right to enforce new technologies on individuals in any circumstances. Many of the new technologies will aid disease diagnosis and treatment, and as a result improve quality of life: “Although many of the ideas developed in nanomedicine might seem to be in the realm of science fiction, only a few more steps are needed to make them come true, so the “time-to-market” of these technologies will not be as long as it seems today.

Monitoring and Diagnosis of Disease and Treatment with Nanomedicine

Nanotechnology will soon allow many diseases to be monitored, diagnosed and treated in a minimally invasive way and it thus holds great promise of improving health and prolonging life. Whereas molecular or personalised medicine will bring better diagnosis and prevention of disease, nanomedicine might very well be the next breakthrough in the treatment of disease.” However, there has also been much discussion in the literature about developing nanotechnologies for human “performance enhancement”. This includes improvements to humans in terms of augmenting mental ability, physical strength and engineering interfaces with electronic devices (e.g. control of equipment or communication by direct neural implants).

Ethical Considerations Associated with Machine Nano Interfaces

Both aspects of the human: machine nano interface have ethical considerations. In terms of augmenting human performance the key will be whether it will always remain voluntary, or can we imagine a point in time when, to fulfil a work role efficiently, a worker must be “equipped” with a neural implant (e.g. to precisely control a machine)? Even if such implants are only employed on a voluntary and personal basis, what will be the broader implications for society? Will such enhanced individuals become an elite group? Will they be precluded from certain activities (e.g. athletics, as those that use anabolic steroids are now)? Or, will they be actively sought, by certain employers, to the detriment of “normal” individuals?

Moral ands Ethical Considerations Associated with Nanotechnology For Disease Diagnosis

Even the use of nanotechnologies for disease diagnosis and treatment has future ethical implications. DNA analysis and micro array technologies are one example of this. These were pivotal to the success of the human genome project and have continued to develop into highly rapid and sensitive platforms for genetic analysis. Most scientists believe that these advances will bring the cost and time required to sequence the complete genome of an individual within the reach of most clinics. This could allow the screening of individuals for genetic mutations and raises many moral and ethical questions: should a person be told that they have a genetic pre-disposition to a disease that might not affect them until later in life, or not at all? Should a couple be told that if they have a child that child would have a non-life threatening disorder? Who would ensure that such information if it is obtained is kept strictly confidential and not passed to other parties, such as insurance companies (who then might refuse health or life insurance based on these findings)? Indeed, will it then be a pre-requisite that anyone requiring such insurance must be screened? And following on from that, will this exclude individuals who are unwilling or unable to be screened, from being “full” members of society?

Primary author: Nanoforum

Source: Benefits, Risks, Ethical, Legal and Social Aspects of Nanotechnology

For more information on this source please visit Nanoforum

Posted 2004

 

Date Added: Jul 21, 2006 | Updated: Jun 11, 2013
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