Nature’s Nicola Jones asked me to comment on Singularity University for an article she was putting together; that article is now available. She included a couple of brief observations of mine, but I thought it would be useful to show the full context of my thoughts.
The fifth Hart survey of what American adults think about emerging technologies like nanotechnology and synthetic biology has been released by my former colleagues at the Woodrow Wilson Center - the first since I left the group earlier this year.
Back in July, the US National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) posted a Request For Information in the Federal Register for input to the next NNI strategic plan - to be published later this year. The closing date for comments was a couple of weeks ago now. I got mine in in the nick of time.
Can current approaches to doing science sustain us over the next one hundred years? An increasing reliance on technological fixes to global challenges demands a radical rethink of how we use science in the service of society.
The way science is taught, the way it’s portrayed on TV and in the press, the way it’s promoted by science-advocates and science bloggers, often seems to adhere to a rather pompous and hubristic view of science as the ultimate bastion of truth and certainty. So it’s been rather refreshing this week to see a group of real-world scientists shattering this image in the online event I’m A Scientist, Get Me Out Of Here!
Last week’s announcement from the J. Craig Venter Institute that scientists had created the first-ever synthetic cell was a profoundly significant point in human history, and marked a turning point in our quest to control the natural world. But the ability to use this emerging technology wisely is already being dogged by fears that we have embarked down a dangerous and morally dubious path.
According to the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP) plans to form a new interagency group on emerging technologies, including nanotechnology and synthetic biology.
A lot of things keep me up at night – everything from the trivial (“did I remember to brush my teeth?”) to the to the profound (“does it matter?”). But recently, I’ve been plagued more than usual in the wee small hours by the challenge of developing sustainable and resilient technologies.
For past 100 years—from the tail end of the industrial revolution, through the chemicals revolution and into the digital revolution—we have been passive observers of our effects on the planet. Over the next 100 years, we will need to take an active role in managing these effects if we are to avoid potentially catastrophic impacts on large numbers of the world’s population.
We stand at a nexus of unimaginable technological potential, and unprecedented global challenges. How we develop and use science and technology over the coming decades will determine the quality (and possibly even the quantity) of life for coming generations.
Regulators around the world are currently grappling with how to manage the possible risks associated with first generation nanotechnologies. But increasingly sophisticated nanotechnology-based products are coming—will the old regulations still cover these emerging nanotechnologies, or is a re-think in how substances are regulated in order?