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Mediating the Uncertainty and Abstraction of Nanotechnology Promotion and Control: “Late” Lessons from Other “Early Warnings” in History
Volume 5, Issue 3

David L. Wallace, Chadbourne & Parke LLP

Against the lengthy record and many lessons of past societal experience with the commercialization and regulation of emergent, transformative technologies, which has traditionally emphasized quantitative risk-assessment paradigms, this article suggests the need to consider new constructs for better managing the integration of technologically innovative products and services into society from a risk and liability perspective. Specifically, it posits that the 20th-century emphasis on a classically linear, expert-driven, “black box” approach to technological risk assessment and management is ill-suited to the unique nature and scale of 21st-century technologies—owing chiefly to the fact the relevant calculus for megasciences like nanotechnologies is complicated by a good deal of ambiguity and uncertainty that renders comprehensive risk quantification largely impossible. Another shortcoming of this approach lies in its treatment of technological innovation and its broader cultural (or qualitative) impacts as abstract externalities subsequently attaching to the commercialization of a product or service, as opposed to an endogenous process naturally arising from within that must be integrated into (not imposed upon) society. To better guide the promotion, oversight, and social integration of nanotechnologies from the earliest stage of a product’s lifecycle, and for a better risk mitigation strategy from both a civil litigation and regulatory enforcement perspective, the author recommends that regulators and private nanotechnology firms alike consider adopting alternative approaches to technological risk assessment that combine traditional risk assessment tools with those of “constructive technology assessment.”

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