Recently announced results of a US national survey on nanotech applications for “human enhancement” show widespread public support for enhancements seen as promising an improvement in human health, but little support for other uses. From North Carolina State University, via AAAS EurekAlert “Survey highlights support for nanotech in health fields but disapproval elsewhere

A landmark national survey on the use of nanotechnology for “human enhancement” shows widespread public support for applications of the new technology related to improving human health. However, the survey also shows broad disapproval for nanotech human enhancement research in areas without health benefits. A team of researchers at North Carolina State University and Arizona State University (ASU) conducted the study, which could influence the direction of future nanotechnology research efforts.

The “Public Awareness of Nanotechnology Study” is the first nationally representative survey to examine public opinion on the use of nanotechnology for human enhancement. The survey found significant support for enhancements that promise to improve human health. For example, 88 percent of participants were in favor of research for a video-to-brain link that would amount to artificial eyesight for the blind. However, there was little support for non-health research endeavors. For example, only 30 percent of participants approved of research into implants that could improve performance of soldiers on the battlefield.

…NC State’s Dr. Michael Cobb, one of the leaders of the study, says the survey’s findings are important because “what the public wants could drive the direction of future research.” Cobb, an associate professor of political science, explains, “The public should have input into where the government invests its research funding.” Dr. Clark Miller, an associate professor of political science at ASU and another leader of the survey, adds, “One of the most important findings is the difference in support for different applications of human enhancement. Research and public policies will need to reflect this differentiated view, recognizing that there are some applications the public supports and some that the public is quite skeptical of.”

I find it encouraging that the public strongly supports nanotechnology for improving health, but I find myself skeptical that public disapproval of military uses of human enhancement will deter the military from making such investments, especially once they argue that we need to give our soldiers every battlefield advantage possible. In the unlikely event the US military were constrained from using such technologies, it seems to me very unlikely that other military establishments worldwide would be similarly constrained.
—Jim