Governance of Innovation in the Biosciences



Convened by Carl Kaysen (MIT), an Academy working group explored emerging issues in the governance of biotechnology. Specialists in molecular biology, science policy, philosophy, history of science, economics, and international relations addressed the proposition, advanced by Fellow Bill Joy (Sun Microsystems) and others, that the existing legal, economic, and social mechanisms governing the development and application of new science and technology are dangerously inadequate.

Joy, chief scientist at Sun Microsystems, initially raised concerns about the risks of new innovations in biotechnology when he addressed the Academy in 1999. He subsequently discussed these issues further in a magazine article, "Why the Future Doesn't Need Us" (Wired, April 8, 2000, p. 23).

The Academy convened a series of meetings in 2000 and 2001 to reflect on the social implications of new technologies. During those sessions, participants discussed the risks and benefits of revolutionary advances not only in genetics but also in nanotechnology and robotics. Focusing on biotechnology, the group identified three issues for possible future investigation by the Academy: 1) the means for limiting the danger of the deliberate use of biotechnology for malevolent purposes; 2) principles, norms, and practices for mitigating unintended and potentially dangerous consequences of the benign uses of biotechnology; and 3) the profound religious, cultural, and social implications of recent and prospective scientific advances, particularly in the field of genetics.



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