Skip to main content

Future Technologies, Dystopic Futures and the Precautionary Principle

Abstract

It is sometimes suggested that new research in such areas as artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and genetic engineering should be halted or otherwise restricted because of concerns about possible catastrophic scenarios. Proponents of such restrictions typically invoke the precautionary principle, understood as a tool of policy formulation, as part of their case. Here I examine the application of the precautionary principle to possible catastrophic scenarios. I argue, along with Sunstein (Risk and Reason: Safety, Law and the Environment. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2002) and Manson (Environmental Ethics, 24: 263–274, 2002), that variants of the precautionary principle that appear strong enough to support significant restrictions on future technologies actually lead to contradictory policy recommendations. Weaker versions of the precautionary principle, which do not have this feature, do not appear strong enough to support restrictions on future technologies.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

References

  • S. Baase (1997) A Gift of Fire: Social, Legal and Ethical Issues in Computing Prentice Hall Upper Saddle River, NJ

    Google Scholar 

  • D. Bodansky. Scientific Uncertainty and the Precautionary Principle. Environment, 33: 4–5 & 43–44, 1991.

    Google Scholar 

  • E.K. Drexler (1986) Engines of Creation Doubleday Garden City

    Google Scholar 

  • ETC Group. A Tiny Primer on Nano-Scale Technologies and “the Little Bang Theory”, http://www.etcgroup.org/documents/TinyPrimer_English.pdf, 2005.

  • European Group on Ethics. Ethical Aspects of ICT Implants in the Human Body. http://europa.eu.int/comm/european_group_ethics/docs/cp20en.pdf, 2005.

  • R.A. Freitas Jr. The Grey Goo Problem, http://www. kurzweilai.net/articles/art0142.html?printable=1, 2001.

  • J.S. Gray M. Brewers (1996) ArticleTitleTowards a Scientific Definition of the Precautionary Principle Marine Pollution Bulletin 32 768–771 Occurrence Handle10.1016/S0025-326X(96)00105-1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • R. Horton (1998) ArticleTitleThe New New Public Health of Risk and Radical Engagement The Lancet 352 251–252 Occurrence Handle10.1016/S0140-6736(05)60254-1

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • Independent Expert Group on Mobile Phones. http://www.iegmp.org.uk/, 2000.

  • A. Jordan and T. O’Riordan. The Precautionary Principle in Contemporary Environmental Policy and Politics. In C. Raffensperger and J. A. Tickner, editors, Protecting Public Health and the Environment: Implementing the Precautionary Principle, pp. 15–35. Island Press, Washington, DC, 1999.

  • D. Lyon (1994) The Electronic Eye: The Rise of the Surveillance Society University of Minnesota Press Minneapolis

    Google Scholar 

  • G. Majone (2002) ArticleTitleWhat Price Safety? The Precautionary Principle and its Policy Implications Journal of Common Market Studies 40 89–109 Occurrence Handle10.1111/1468-5965.00345

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • N.A. Manson (2002) ArticleTitleFormulating the Precautionary Principle Environmental Ethics 24 263–274

    Google Scholar 

  • P. Saunders. and M.W. Ho. The Precautionary Principle is Coherent. ISIS paper: http://www.biotech-info.net//PP_coherent.html, 2000.

  • P. Sandin M. Peterson S.O. Hannson C. Rudén A. Juthe (2002) ArticleTitleFive Charges Against the Precautionary Principle Journal of Risk Research 5 287–299 Occurrence Handle10.1080/13669870110073729

    Article  Google Scholar 

  • C.R. Sunstein (2002) Risk and Reason: Safety, Law and the Environment Cambridge University Press Cambridge

    Google Scholar 

  • C.R. Sunstein (2003) ArticleTitleBeyond the Precautionary Principle University of Pennsylvania Law Review 151 1003–1058

    Google Scholar 

  • United Nations Environment Programme. Rio Declaration on Environment and Development. http://www.unep.org/Documents.Multilingual/Default.asp?ArticleID=1163& DocumentID=78&l=en, 1992.

  • Wingspread Statement on the Precautionary Principle. http://www.gdrc.org/u-gov/precaution-3.html, 1998.

Download references

Author information

Authors and Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Steve Clarke.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Cite this article

Clarke, S. Future Technologies, Dystopic Futures and the Precautionary Principle. Ethics Inf Technol 7, 121–126 (2005). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-006-0007-1

Download citation

  • Issue Date:

  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s10676-006-0007-1

Keywords

  • catastrophe
  • cost–benefit analysis
  • grey goo problem
  • nanotechnology
  • precautionary principle