Friday, January 30, 2004

Legislation before Education

The British government is doing many things right in formulating nanotechnology policy, as I've written before, but this article (registration required) in the Times Higher Education Supplement indicates that they've picked up a few bad habits. As it is for their American cousins, the British government is trying to regulate and legislate before it's been properly educated. This can lead to some inconsistent, or even bizarre, policies. Here's an excerpt from the Times article:
    Robert Key, Conservative MP for Salisbury, told (Science Minister David Sainsbury): "There is only one thing that is absolutely clear about government policy on nanotechnology - that it is chaotic and it is being made up as it goes along."

    The Department for Trade and Industry was originally basing its nanotechnology policy upon a strategy report written by Sir John Taylor, the former director general of the research councils, which was published in June 2002. This called for urgent government action, including the setting up of two national centres.

    But Lord Sainsbury admitted that when this report was drafted, the government understood "very much less about what was going on" in nanotechnology.

In the United States, this chaotic, scattered process produced a nanotechnology act (PDF, 56.1 KB), signed by the president, that is being promoted as a down-to-earth, realistic piece of legislation that does not stray into speculative fiction, yet also includes safeguards against "potential use of nanotechnology in enhancing human intelligence and in developing artificial intelligence which exceeds human capacity."

While it seems strange that this possibility was not deemed too "sci-fi" to remain in the bill, I can see why some legislators would feel threatened by such technology.


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