Dirty hands, speculative minds, and smart machines

Diane Michelfelder

pp. 55-68

In 2003, Peter Singer and others sounded a warning in the pages of the journal Nanotechnology that research into the ethical, social, and legal implications (ELSI) of nanotechnology was increasingly lagging behind research into nanotechnology itself. More recently, Alfred Nordmann and Arie Rip have argued that while the pace of ELSI inquiry has now picked up, the inquiry itself is focused far too much on hypothetical and futuristic scenarios. But might there be advantages for ethicists and philosophers of technology interested in the ELSI of emerging technologies to continue to think in a speculative vein? Drawing upon some lessons learned from the development of environmental ethics, and looking primarily at information and computing technologies, I suggest three reasons as to how speculative thinking can add value to ELSI reflection. I argue that it can allow for critical values to emerge that might otherwise go unheeded, open up avenues to reframe issues that might otherwise go unnoticed, and, perhaps most importantly, permit questions to be raised that might otherwise go unvoiced.

Publication details

DOI: 10.1007/s13347-010-0009-0

Full citation:

Michelfelder, (2011). Dirty hands, speculative minds, and smart machines. Philosophy & Technology 24 (1), pp. 55-68.

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