Ethical, Legal, and Societal Issues
Responsible development of nanotechnology is one of the four goals of the NNI and central to advancing the other three (specifically, continuing a world-class R&D program; fostering the transfer of new nanotechnologies into products for commercial and public benefit; and educating the workforce, engaging the public, and sustaining an effective nanotechnology R&D infrastructure).
An important component of responsible development is the consideration of the ethical, legal, and societal implications of nanotechnology. How nanotechnology research and applications are introduced into society; how transparent decisions are; how sensitive and responsive policies are to the needs and perceptions of the full range of stakeholders; and how ethical, legal, and social issues are addressed will determine public trust and the future of innovation driven by nanotechnology.
The NNI is committed to fostering the development of a community of experts on ethical, legal, and societal issues (ELSI) related to nanotechnology and to building collaborations among ELSI communities, such as consumers, engineers, ethicists, manufacturers, nongovernmental organizations, regulators, and scientists. These stakeholder groups will consider potential benefits and risks of research breakthroughs and provide their perspectives on new research directions. With its industry stakeholders, the NNI will also develop information resources for ethical and legal issues related to intellectual property and ethical implications of nanotechnology-based patents and trade secrets. To date, the cumulative NNI investments in education and societal dimensions totals $350 million.
To help explore the ELSI issues, NNI agencies are supporting the two centers for nanotechnology in society noted in the “Related Resources” box, and where possible, are incorporating ELSI components into their new nanotechnology R&D programs.