The Center for Nanotechnology in Society (CNS) at the University of California, Santa Barbara is to serve as a national research and education center, a network hub among researchers and educators concerned with nanotechnologies' societal impacts, and a resource base for studying these impacts in the US and abroad. The CNS-UCSB seeks to produce and encourage excellent and innovative scholarship that addresses the intersection of nanotechnologies with society. CNS-UCSB researchers are engaged in several areas of inquiriry including: the historical context of nanotechnologies; innovation; intellectual property and globalization; and risk perception and social movements relating to nanotechnology.
With the passage of the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI) in 2000, US investment in nanotechnology research and development soared quickly to almost US$1 billion annually. The NNI emerged at a salient point in US history as lawmakers worked to reshape national science policies in response to growing international economic competition and the increasing commercialization of academic science. This paper examines how advocates of nanotechnology successfully marketed their initiative. It pays especial attention to their optimistic depiction of societies and economies improved by nanotechnology, and considers why utopian techno-visions continue to flourish despite their tendency to ultimately disappoint.
Major issues surrounding the impact of emerging nanotechnologies on society were well represented at a conference on human enhancement at the Said Business School at the University of Oxford. The essay describes the contrasting perspectives of speakers from the United States, Continental Europe, and the global South. Cutting across regional differences was a second debate: while some participants felt that social issues were presented as a drain on scientific progress, others, including the author, argued that culture and society should be analyzed alongside science as positive contributors to human enhancement. The essay suggests that creative process is a better model of societal governance of science than is regulation alone, and that this perspective might help bridge some of the conference's contrasting perspectives.