, Volume 3, Issue 1, pp 17-30
Date: 05 Mar 2009

Researching and Teaching the Ethics and Social Implications of Emerging Technologies in the Laboratory

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Ethicists and others who study and teach the social implications of science and technology are faced with a formidable challenge when they seek to address “emerging technologies.” The topic is incredibly important, but difficult to grasp because not only are the precise issues often unclear, what the technology will ultimately look like can be difficult to discern. This paper argues that one particularly useful way to overcome these difficulties is to engage with their natural science and engineering colleagues in laboratories. Through discussions and interactions with these colleagues ethicists can simultaneously achieve three important objectives. First they can get a great deal of assistance in their research into the social implications of future technologies by talking with people that are actively creating those futures. Second their presence in the lab and the discussions that result can be a very powerful method for educating not only students, but faculty about the ramifications of their work. And third, because the education is directly linked to the students’ everyday work it is likely that it will not just be a theoretical exercise, but have direct impact on their practice.

We would like to thank David Guston and Brad Allenby for their invaluable comments on several drafts of this paper, two anonymous reviewers, and Neal Woodbury, Deputy Director of the Biodesign Institute at ASU for his contributions to this project. Without his support we could not have conducted the pilot for this project. This project was supported by the National Science Foundation’s Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (NSF #0531194). Any opinions, findings and conclusions are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.