June 15, 2014
June 15, 2014
June 18, 2014
24.1192.1 - 24.1192.14
The Continuing Shock of the New: Some Thoughts on why Law, Regulation, and Codes are Not Enough to Guide Emerging TechnologiesIn this paper the authors argue that emerging technologies, such as nanotechnology, demand theskills of ethical analysis and judgment, coupled with ethical sensitivity, creativity, and wisdom.One of the central characteristics of contemporary technological society is the ceaseless andintentional search for innovation. This is a fundamental change from earlier, pre-industrialperiods of human history in which the human relationship to technology was largely eitherpreservative (continuing existing techniques) or to treat technology as something other, magical,or divine. We understand technology as a human product, and systematically seek to changeexisting technologies and create new ones. New technologies present not only new means forexisting tasks, but create new possibilities and thus new goals for human activity. This meansthat we have ever-new products, techniques, and goals, which consequently change individuallives, communities, nations and the international community, and nature itself. This also meansthat change has come to be expected as the natural state of human existence, a taken-for-grantedbackground condition. Additionally, new technologies have a power and a range of impacts –both spatially and temporally – greater than at any time in history, and also create situations ofboth great knowledge and great uncertainty.Engineers, as architects of this new world produce products and processes that impact, in variousand differential ways, the lives of all people, and often in unexpected ways. Engineers, we willargue, thus have responsibilities beyond developing and utilizing technical skills and knowledge.Consider, for example, nanomaterials. The past decade as seen a rapid growth in thedevelopment and use of nanomaterials in everyday objects (cosmetics and socks) and specializedones (wind turbine blades and geological sensors). Engineers, and the institutions within whichthey work, will tend to focus on efficient performance and minimizing cost, or might avoidexploring nanomaterials out of caution. Realizing the full potential of this new technology thusdemands guidance beyond the technical.Law, and regulation, and professional and design codes will all provide some guidance to thesafe and ethical development and use of new technologies. But, this paper argues, law,regulation, and codes are not enough. This is so because law, regulation and codes: 1) arefundamentally different from ethics and largely negative devices that guide us in what to avoidbut not what to do, 2) are not self-explanatory and demand thoughtful application, 3) containconflicting and vague imperatives, and 4) do not cover all cases and are thus incomplete. Thislast is especially true when dealing with emerging technologies, as there will be considerableuncertainty about uses, benefits, risks, and other implications. For this reason, attention to socialand ethical dimensions of engineering and technology is necessary. Engineers need to nurtureethical sensitivity, creativity, and wisdom, and practice skills of ethical analysis and judgment.Together, these provide an ethical toolbox for dealing with novel situations.
Hanks, J. C., & Fazarro, D. E., & Tate, J. S., & Trybula, W., & McLean, R. J. (2014, June), The Continuing Shock of the New: Some Thoughts on Why Law, Regulation, and Codes Are Not Enough to Guide Emerging Technologies Paper presented at 2014 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Indianapolis, Indiana. 10.18260/1-2--23125
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