When technology clashes with a culture, trouble is likely and scientists must be concerned of the ethical dimensions of research and development, a senior UAE official told the participants of a scientific conference.
Nanotechnologies are not immune from social and moral effects and, like all of our actions, consequences are always best considered long before they occur, said Shaikh Nahyan Bin Mubarak Al Nahyan, Minister of Higher Education and Scientific Research.
Opening the 3rd International Conference on Nanotechnology organized by UAE University (UAEU), he said that innovative research and development is not necessarily good in and of itself. "It is never too soon to consider possible ethical issues associated with the scientific topics that you will be discussing, said Shaikh Nahyan who is also the chancellor of the UAEU.
The three-day conference will highlight developments and applications in nanotechnology - a field that has infiltrated almost all products used and every industrial sector. A goal of the conference is also to highlight the importance of preparing Emiratis to take advantage of this technology as an integral part of empowering the country's industries to embrace this revolution, according to the UAEU.
Shaikh Nahyan said there are five categories of social and ethical issues associated with emerging nanotechnologies that includes social, moral, techno-cultural, life and transformational issues. Issues in the social context include unequal access to health care, inequalities in education, and unequal exposure to environmental hazards, he said.
"We are aware already of the way in which currently held moral beliefs by some segment of a population may be at odds with nano-technological matters," he said. These issues include the construction of artificial organisms, biological weapons, stem cell research and genetic modification of human beings.
He said societies are organised for people and if nanotechnologies were to affect the form of people's lives significantly, societies would face serious moral questions. "We would confront questions about, for example, personal identity and what it means to be human," he added.
The minister said people in the UAE have been experiencing the value of free and creative thinking in planning for the country that is 40 years young this week. President His Highness Shaikh Khalifa Bin Zayed Al Nahyan and other leaders have always encouraged free and creative thinking in the service of enhancing a stable prosperous, knowledge-based society.
"In planning, we have obviously embraced the nanotechnology enterprise, but we have embraced it in pursuit of our goals and in concert with our best moral judgement about our means and the consequences of our actions," Shaikh Nahyan added.
The conference features 128 presentations from leading scientists of 16 countries in Europe, North America, Asia, Middle East, and North Africa. Three keynote presentations and four invited talks have also been arranged in the conference.