Edited by Gary E. Marchant, Kenneth W. Abbott and Braden Allenby
Chapter 3: Emerging technology governance
A wondrous range of emerging technologies is expected to transform society. Biotechnology, nanotechnology and synthetic biology, to name a few, are anticipated to revolutionize fields as diverse as health care, agriculture and energy. These innovations may produce wonder drugs that target and destroy cancerous tumors, energy generation that reduces greenhouse gas emissions and molecular machines that manufacture products cheaply, cleanly and without waste. On the more concerning side, these technologies also could produce toxic substances that cause cancer or new organisms that disrupt ecosystems. The development and governance of emerging technologies are inevitably and dynamically intertwined: these technologies cannot develop without providing researchers freedom to innovate, but too much freedom can lead to a calamity that forecloses future opportunity. Insufficient protection could lead to excessive or unknown human health and environmental risks and undercut public confidence. But excessive regulation could limit the development of an extremely promising technology and foreclose potentially great social, health, environmental and economic benefits. The emerging technology governance challenge requires designing an innovation environment that simultaneously permits pursuit of a promising innovation’s anticipated benefits while guarding against its potential risks. This challenge is made more difficult by the reality that the risks of a technology often cannot be fully understood until the technology further develops. This chapter proposes a governance system for managing this delicate balance for emerging technologies. Historically regulation has evolved reactively around relatively mature industries. Most regulation has proven remarkably unyielding to evolution, even in the face of recognized limits and flaws.
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