A recent New York Times article highlighted the growing integration of technologies and textiles, displaying a photograph of a delicate golden nest of optical fiber. The article reported that this new “functional fabric” has the added quality that it “acts as an optical bar code to identify who is wearing it.”
Is this a feature or a bug? This smart material would certainly be a new milestone in the march of technology and the marketplace to erode personal privacy. Would a suit made of this material need to come with a warning label? Just because we have the technological capability to do something like this, should we?
Similar questions could have been asked about putting GPS technology in our mobile phones, drones in the air and the “cookies” resident on our devices to dutifully record and transmit our online activity. Right now, those conversations happen in corporate boardrooms, the media, fictional books and films, and academic settings. But there isn’t a broad national conversation around the ethics of the steady digital encroachment on our lives. Is it time to create a presidential commission on technoethics?
Elevating the discussion
Such a commission might take its cue from the presidential committees that have been put in place over the past 50 years to study the issues that have come up about biological research. In 2001, President George W. Bush created the President’s Council on Bioethics (PCBE) to address concerns about genomics work and genetic engineering, largely inspired by advances in stem cell research and cloning.
The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.