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Nanotech researchers examine human enhancement

March 26, 2009

KALAMAZOO--The ethics of enhancing human capabilities with such technology as bionic limbs and neural chip implants will be the focus Saturday and Sunday, March 28-29, when The Nanoethics Group holds a long-awaited conference at Western Michigan University.

The conference begins each day at 8:45 a.m. in WMU's Fetzer Center and concludes at noon on Sunday. In an unusual move for an academic conference, organizers are welcoming interested members of the public to attend without charge.

Organized by faculty from WMU, California Polytechnic State University, Dartmouth College and the University of Delaware, the conference will focus on the ethical and social impacts of human enhancement technologies that may give significant advantages to individuals in fields that range from sports and academia to jobs and military objectives. The conference will focus on enhancements especially related to nanotechnology and will bring together rising stars in the field to discuss potential health risks and related ethical issues such as fairness, access and general societal disruption.

"Who wouldn't want to be stronger, smarter and healthier--which is what we strive for now through exercise, academics, diet and medicine?" asks Dr. Fritz Allhoff, WMU assistant professor of philosophy and co-founder of The Nanoethics Group. "But using new, powerful technologies to achieve the same result seems to push our bodies and minds beyond their natural limits, opening the possibility of unintended or unforeseen results and harms."

Session topics will focus on such varied topics as the uses of human enhancement by the military, the ethics of regenerative nanomedicine for cosmetic purposes, the ethical ramifications of enhancement for athletes and public policy issues surrounding the entire field.

Attending the event and making presentations will be some of the leading researchers in the field from such organizations as the Albany School of Medicine; Arizona State, Carnegie Mellon, Indiana, Michigan State, Northeastern, Oxford, Yale and York universities; corporate giants General Dynamics and IBM; Trinity College; and the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill.

The conference caps off a three-year nanoethics initiative funded by the National Science Foundation. Allhoff and Dartmouth's Dr. James Moor were 2006 recipients of $250,000 in NSF funding for a series of studies and events culminating in the WMU conference. They are expected to issue a report on their recommendations to NSF this fall. Allhoff is the host and co-organizer of the March 28-29 event.

Dr. Patrick Lin, director of The Nanoethics Group, joined the research team as a post-doctoral associate at Dartmouth. He is now at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo and is a conference co-organizer. Dr. Thomas Powers, also a conference organizer, is director of the Science, Ethics and Public Policy Program and assistant professor of philosophy at the University of Delaware.

The Nanoethics Group is organized under the umbrella of the Ethics + Emerging Technologies Group based at Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo--a non-partisan research and educational organization focused on the risk, ethical and social impacts of emerging technologies, such as robotics and nanotechnology.

For more information, registration, directions and the full lineup of speakers, please visit the Human Enhancement and Nanotechnology Conference online or contact WMU's Dr. Fritz Allhoff at fritz.allhoff@wmich.edu.

Media contact: Cheryl Roland, (269) 387-8400, cheryl.roland@wmich.edu

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