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Experts ponder the hazards of using technology to save the planet - International Herald Tribune

Last year, a private company proposed "fertilizing" parts of the ocean with iron, in hopes of encouraging carbon-absorbing blooms of plankton. Meanwhile, researchers elsewhere are talking about injecting chemicals into the atmosphere, launching sun-reflecting mirrors into stationary orbit above the earth or taking other steps to reset the thermostat of a warming planet.

This technology might be useful, even life-saving. But it would inevitably produce environmental effects impossible to predict and impossible to undo. So a growing number of experts say it is time for broad discussion of how and by whom it should be used, or if it should be tried at all.

Similar questions are being raised about nanotechnology, robotics and other powerful emerging technologies. There are even those who suggest humanity should collectively decide to turn away from some new technologies as inherently dangerous.

"The complexity of newly engineered systems coupled with their potential impact on lives, the environment, etc., raise a set of ethical issues that engineers had not been thinking about," said William Wulf, a computer scientist who until last year headed the National Academy of Engineering. As one of his official last acts, he established the Center for Engineering, Ethics and Society there.

by Fran on Tue Aug 12th, 2008 at 03:23:39 PM EST
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