The authors of Law and the Technologies of the Twenty-First Century (Cambridge University Press, 2012) examine both the challenges and opportunities that are arising regarding regulatory frameworks and emerging technologies, looking specifically at: prudence, legitimacy, effectiveness and connection.
The twenty-first century, we can be sure, will be a time of relentless technological development. Whether we look at the projections for information and communication technologies (ICTs), biotechnologies, nanotechnologies, or neurotechnologies, the story is much the same: these emerging technologies will have transformative effects on the way that we work and play, on our health and our wealth, and no doubt, on our happiness too. It has never been more important that we get the regulatory environment right.
Wherever we look, regulators are grappling with the challenges presented by the changing technological landscape. Sometimes these challenges consist in tweaking existing law – for example, the CPS is currently consulting on the criteria for prosecuting offensive and/or threatening communications sent via social media; at other times, the law needs a major overhaul – data protection is an obvious example. Regulators are not short of advice on how to approach technological developments: there are numerous reports addressing particular applications of technologies (for example, reports on nanomedicine, nanofoods, enhancement in the workplace, pre-conception genetic testing, brain imaging and the criminal law, and so on) or new developments (synthetic biology, for example, has attracted a good deal of attention). The most recent report from the Nuffield Council on Bioethics, with emerging biotechnologies as its topic,1 is wide-ranging; but it still neglects significant parts of the technological array – and much the same might be said about the most recent report (on ICTs) from the European Group on Ethics in Science and New Technologies (EGE).2