Monday, November 13, 2006

Ethics, Nanotech, and SF?

NSMS 550

ST: Societal Implications of Nanotechnology

Albuquerque/Main Campus
Topics Schedule Type
3.000 Credits

Laura and I went back to college today, sitting in on a talk by a visiting ethicist, Rosalyn W. Berne, speaking to the above graduate level class (taught by Dr. Kirsty Mills).

Berne is currently focused directly on nanoscience and nanotechnology investigators, to understand the formulation of their personal motivations, beliefs, aspirations and goals, as well as the development of individual ethical frameworks, as these are connected to their research in nanotechnology.

What was really fascinating, is that Ros is using Science Fiction, big time, both to examine potential problems for nanotech, but also to get scientists and engineers to examine thi
ngs they are not willing to talk about openly. She actually gets them to write fiction and uses the issues that emerge in the fiction itself, to engage them about things they wouldn't ever discuss in a straight forward conversation. (This is by no means a new interest in SF--one of her published articles is “Robosapiens, Transhumanism and the Kurzweilian Utopia: Why the Trans in Transhumanism."

Steve Smith, a physicist and virtual reality guru from Los Alamos National Laboratories roped us in on this, and the discussions in the classroom and later, at lunch were riveting.

Dr. Berne would be the first person to say she doesn't have the answers--but she sure has the questions and she's all about getting people to ask them.

Maybe we won't all dissolve into gray goo after all.


Steven Gould said...

Had an interesting coversation with Rosalyn about these two conferences she'd been told she should go to. ISFRA and WisCon.

It doesn't get any more unreal than this. The National Science Foundation funds her research into the attitudes and beliefs of Nano researchers and one of her major tools is SF, both as a tool (her writing projects) and as a major cultural component of these resarchers identity.

I'm not used to SF being treated with anything close to respect.

Steven Gould said...

I'm going to go sit down over here and breathe for a while.