News a couple weeks back that the Office of Science and Technology Policy had established an inter-agency working group on emerging technologies was tantalizing – and potentially important. Its announcement by means of the OSTP blog means that we know about it but not very much. It was described as “part of an effort to give special attention to technologies so new—such as nanotechnology and synthetic biology—that their policy implications are still being gauged.” A somewhat curious statement. It implies that the policy implications of older technologies are already gauged (oil exploration?! internet/IP/privacy . . .?) – and also that nano and synbio are “so new,” when they were in the news a decade ago. Indeed, Bill Clinton’s memorably Caltech speech that launched the National Nanotechnology Initiative was just over 10 years ago.
These may be quibbles, but they point to substantive issues of neglect that, perhaps, are being made good. We shall see. Inter-agency groups are both the most necessary and the most demanding of federal activities. The pervasive and cross-sectoral impacts of emerging technologies may prove the ultimate test of our capacity to develop policy responses through our silo-driven mechanisms. So the ETIPC (yep, it has an acronym, so it must be authentically federal!) is a promising initiative.
Its parties comprise OSTP with the office of the US Trade Representative and the Office of Management and Budget. We shall watch its efforts with interest.