NASA takes lead on tech ethics
- By Paula Shaki Trimble
- Apr 25, 2000
NASA is creating a technology ethics subcommittee to tackle the sensitive
issues associated with new technology, according to a senior NASA official.
As nanotechnology, biotechnology and information technology converge, Samuel
Venneri, associate administrator for NASA's Office of Aero-Space Technology,
said he hopes a similar approach to ethical issues will be taken on a national
scale. He proposed an organization similar to the White House Office of
Science and Technology Policy that would have expertise in policy, science
Venneri was among those who testified Monday before the House Government
Reform Committee's Government Management, Information and Technology Subcommittee
at NASA's Ames Research Center, Moffett Field, Calif.
The House subcommittee, chaired by Rep. Stephen Horn (R-Calif.), wanted
to hear government, industry and academic perspectives on whether and how
the federal government can get ahead of the high-tech curve.
As advances in medicine and computing begin to rely on the same technologies,
federal funding is needed to train scientists early on to have experience
with physical science and IT, said Sussane Huttner, executive director of
the Industry-University Cooperative Research Program at the University of
Venneri noted the potential for the technology to be abused.
"I don't think any one government agency is structured to deal with these
difficult questions now," Venneri said. That is why NASA is setting up a
structured subcommittee to the NASA Advisory Council that will bring in
a cross-section of expertise to address the implications of technology that
will be available in five to 10 years.
"Ethical questions are only part of the problem," said Charles Shank, director
of the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory at the University of California.
Gaining the trust of the public is a difficult thing to do when addressing
issues of gene manipulation, and the government's sponsorship of such research
must provide people with enough information to make informed judgments,
he said. When dealing with issues of fear, such as those involved with the
Human Genome Project, researchers must have patience, he said.