Objective: Open Dialogue
What exactly are the opportunities of an emerging technology? Where are potential risks on the other hand, and does the scientific view of the risks agree with how the society perceives the risks?
Risks-and-opportunities debates have already taken place in the context of nuclear energy and genetic engineering, and a comprehensive public debate should also be possible on nanotechnologies. In order that citizens can form their own opinions about a technology, however, objective and comprehensible information is needed as well as the willingness of all involved stakeholders to contribute to an open dialogue.
Several initiatives and organisations exist in Switzerland which aim at fostering the exchange of knowledge and a broad dialgue on nanotechnologies. Besides Swiss Nano-Cube, these are the institutions, federal agencies, experts and the Federal Council involved in the Swiss Action Plan.
The Swiss Academies of Arts and Sciences in particular stand for an open and equal dialogue between science and society. TA-Swiss, which is a Centre for Excellence among the Academies, addresses issues of technology assessment and questions about emerging technologies.
Do we need nano-laws?
Due to their size nanomaterials have particular properties. Do nanomaterials therefore need specific regulations? Is there a need for a specific labelling of nanomaterials in products? Such questions are discussed among experts today.
Up to now there are only very few regulations which explicitly address manufactured nanomaterials of contain specific rules for them. Since nanomaterials are not explicitly excluded on the other hand, current legislation is applicable to nanosized materials.
We may nevertheless ask the question whether the existing legislatory framework is adequate to ensure a safe use of nanotechnologies. And if new laws would be needed, what exactly should these laws regulate?
Investigating and applying nanotechnologies may be interpreted as an advance to a new dimension. Much the same as exploring new technologies may be linked to opportunities, it might also cover risks. These risks should be identified, managed, and avoided. Since we cannot predict the future, we have to consider potential future implications of new technologies at an early stage.
In this context we have to consider potential scenarios in advance. We must draw conclusions in order to prevent future damage and take maximal advantage. The public debate about ethical and social implications of nanotechnology is crucial to achieve a positive development and to prevent later backlashes.