Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
“Exponentially rapid,” “revolutionary,” and “a new Renaissance” are terms frequently used to describe today’s convergence of four major science and technology provinces. This unique, visionary convergence consists of independent science and technology areas commonly familiar but not considered as an entirety, until now. Often abbreviated as NBIC, converging technologies is the synergistic unification of (i) Nanoscience and nanotechnology; (ii) Biotechnology and biomedicine, including genetic engineering; (iii) Information technology, with advanced computing and communications; and (iv) Cognitive science and neuroscience based on material unity at the nanoscale and on technology integration from that scale. NBIC represents the multidisciplinary blending of science, engineering, technology and medicine with the human dimension. This material unity is expected to touch most industries and products in today’s marketplace, serve as an anchor to create and maintain jobs, support human physical and cognitive development, and require an educated and trained workforce. Even more, the confluence of NBIC will affect all societal systems currently in place globally. What are some of the expected implications of converging technologies? As soon as within the next decade, we will begin to see: (i) the makings of a networked society with a global collective intelligence; (ii) evolving new business models resulting from disruptive developments, emergent, transforming and enabling technologies; (iii) the development of new products in all industries; (iv) a new understanding of the mind and human body life cycle resulting in personalized healthcare through individualized medicine, real-time monitoring of a disease’s progression, therapeutic targeting of medical treatment, the maintaining of physical and mental capacity during the aging process, and smart embedded sensors with the ability to replace, reproduce, or improve worn or damaged body parts without invasive surgery; (v) new educational masteries, methods of learning and instruction; (vi) new communication paradigms with potential for enhanced sensory and cognitive capabilities; and (vii) a new vision of transportation and travel. LEGAL IMPLICATIONS What are the implications for the legal profession, the judicial system and policy makers? This merger will shape changes in the current legal, regulatory, political, judicial and institutional networks, not just within the United States, but also on an international scale. The issues converging technologies will raise cut across a wide swath of important practice areas — not just intellectual property, but constitutional law, discrimination law, privacy, torts, criminal law, family law, conflicts of law, comparative law, contractual relationships, corporate formation and partnership, technology transfer and commercialization, licensing, real property law, employment and labor law, environmental law, elder law, healthcare and ERISA, international law and customs and trade regulation. The multidisciplinary nature of NBIC will generate an analogous convergence among attorneys through the interdisciplinary integration of several practice areas. Additionally, new areas of law may arise as a result of this synergistic combination, similar to the manner in which the Internet, information and computer law developed. Because of the speed with which NBIC is developing and the broad impact it carries, the legal profession will be challenged to understand, prepare for and anticipate the practical implications and import of these circumstances. Judges may need to take a broader view and understanding of the issues of the cases appearing before them, and how those decisions might raise other issues not yet considered. Legislators will be required to draft policy with an understanding of how novel issues and concepts will impact current laws and how new rules can effectively integrate with those already enacted while continually protecting the interests of the consumer, business professional, and society as a whole. Regulators will need to partner to ensure the enforcement of rules, regulations, and policies that simultaneously cut across previously independent subject areas. As disciplines converge, the powerful advancement of converging technologies will force law schools to re-evaluate their long-established Socratic method of instruction and augment their traditional curriculum of theory and case law with more coursework on understanding science and innovation, entrepreneurial transformation, and complex systems of change. New, yet undeveloped forms of instruction, as well as methods of instruction currently utilized in business and engineering schools may enter the legal fray with such concepts as scenario planning, game theory, and trends analysis, as innovative organizational and economic models emerge and current paradigms intersect. NANOTECHNOLOGY Nanotechnology represents the ability to measure, organize and manipulate matter at the atomic, molecular and supramolecular levels, allowing for the creation of new materials, devices and systems at a miniscule scale and integrating them into larger components. It is from this that today’s scientific advances are funded, researched and developed, and the foundation upon which advances in new technologies and creative biological, chemical and electrical scientific applications, devices, products and processes are built. Because nanotechnology is a multidisciplinary field that integrates physics, engineering, molecular biology and chemistry, its applications are expected to have pervasive uses in drug delivery, computing, communications, defense and space exploration, to name a few. Several industries will be recipients of the rewards of nanotechnology: (i) bioscience, as tools for drug discovery and delivery; (ii) information technology, as a next generation to microprocessors and self-assembly; (iii) chemicals, such as catalysts used in the oil industry, and (iv) materials, as new carbon fibers and high-performance composites. Nanotechnology holds the promise of safely enhancing the quality of our lives and improving our life span through personalized medical diagnosis, new and more efficient sources of energy, and creating novel devices, while synthesizing new materials in the realms of electronics, optics and optoelectronics. Additionally, with nanotechnology, “green” manufacturing techniques will help eliminate pollution, mitigate environmental hazards, detect contaminants, reduce emissions, avoid toxic leaks and improve energy efficiency. Today, the law governing nanotechnology is where Internet law was around 1995. Because of the novel and unorthodox products and processes created by nanotechnology, it is likely to produce calls for entirely new forms and degrees of regulation. However, these must be developed with a watchful eye toward the international socio-political environment regarding the development of nanotechnology. Additionally, new variations of old tort suits, based on everything from products liability to negligent employment of nanodevices could arise. Caution should also be taken as science continues to outpace societal attitudes. This could create legal confusion unless laws are enacted and enforced that will ensure a reasonable degree of safety. Still lacking is a global definition of the meaning of nanotechnology. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has not even established a separate specialized examining group to deal with nanotechnology. Yet, the National Nanotechnology Initiative is one of the government’s largest scientific initiatives to date. The Science Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed H.R. 766, as amended, The Nanotechnology Research and Development Act of 2003, calling for a national nanotechnology program to sustain investment in research and development, expand education, accelerate the commercialization of nanotechnology, and proactively address societal and ethical concerns derived from the development of the technology. It authorizes funding for nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation at $350 million for fiscal year 2004, with increases through 2006. In June, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved the Allen/Wyden sponsored S.189, 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, clearing the way for a vote by the full Senate. This bill would also substantially increase funding for nanotechnology research, structure a comprehensive national nanotechnology research and development program, and direct the Office of Science and Technology Policy to coordinate and manage the National Nanotechnology Program. BIOTECHNOLOGY Because biology is becoming increasingly complex and computation more sophisticated, the advancement of bioinformatics — the research, development, or application of computational tools and approaches for expanding the use of biological, medical, behavioral or health data, including those to acquire, store, organize, archive, analyze or visualize such data, as well as computational biology — is creating super computing power that can quickly generate biomedical information about DNA structure and propensity for illness or addiction which can subsequently then be disseminated and even patented. Diamond v. Chakrabarty, 447 U.S. 303; 100 S. Ct. 2204; 65 L. Ed. 2d 144 (1980), the first case to hold that live, human-made microorganisms were patentable, helped advance that potential. How will access to this international repository of information impact the criminal justice system and alter the law’s reliance and interpretation of free will? The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act cannot protect our privacy, nor our future security sufficiently from such speed and enhanced tools. The ability of converging technologies to repair or modify cells atom by atom and molecule by molecule would allow for the possibility of lengthening today’s life expectancy. One day, medical science even may have the ability to use nanobiotechnology to regenerate and replace body parts that are essential to human body functions. Clearly, this would impact property, as well as trusts and estates laws, in addition to our medicare and social security programs. INFORMATION TECHNOLOGY With convergent technologies, society will be pervasively networked, enhanced, improved, or sensored. As a result, the manner in which we communicate, and receive and compress information will be greater, faster, and easier. Because nanotechnology is reinventing computing, it stands to redefine what we mean by a computer, human-machine interaction, and the sentient environment. Predicted to be everywhere within five to 10 years, sentient computing will have the ability to listen, watch, and anticipate a user’s every need. However, this “always connected” surrounding raises issues of global privacy, security and consent. The world is being turned into a digital representation. Anything digital is borderless. We cannot even glimpse the potential. How will laws be enacted and enforced in this international borderless world of digital representation? NEUROSCIENCE Through the development of converging technologies, we will have the ability to learn about the structure, function and dysfunctional state of the human mind, with the ultimate possibility of simulating aspects of human consciousness by machines. The convergence of neuroscience with bioengineering has advanced our understanding of how brains work, think, reason, remember, see and break down processes. This has allowed for the development of “brain prostheses” and “neural interfaces” and spare parts for the brain. In the future, brain simulators might also help identify and simulate new forms of treatment for damaged brains. These advances may help provide a cure for diseases and conditions like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy and paralysis. Technologies that have come out of neuroscience have advanced significantly ahead of the ethical dilemmas they raise. Defined as the examination of what is right and wrong about the treatment of, perfection of, or unwelcome invasion of, and worrisome manipulation of the human brain. Neuroethics questions the relationship between ethics and brain science resulting from advances in pharmacology, neuroimaging and genetics. Currently, surgical procedures on the brain are unregulated. Who will regulate and monitor new treatments in clinics? What occurs if the drugs that are derived from neuroscience which affect the nervous system are misused? Are there long-term effects in altering the brain? Will one be able to claim no liability or responsibility by saying: “My brain made me do it!” CONCLUSION New paradigms will push existing public policy, legal regimes, and ethical models. Any new technology generates novel forms of activity calling for evaluation, analysis and assessment. Convergent technologies have already begun to dramatically alter society’s landscape and infrastructures. Because the convergence of science and technology brings with it the simultaneous convergence of several legal practice areas, attorneys now have the unique professional opportunity and responsibility to design anticipatory measures while creating the appropriate legal infrastructure within which to harness the enormous impact of the unified NBIC that stands to benefit and improve society as a whole. The Converging Technologies Bar Association was newly formed for that purpose: to advance professional collaboration among the legal, scientific and engineering communities, and establish preparatory measures on the legal, ethical and societal considerations, while fostering public awareness, understanding, and interest in emerging and converging technologies, and other related sciences and technologies. The future lies in the interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary approach to conducting business, communicating, drafting laws, medical diagnosis and cures, labor and work ethics, educational instruction and training, thinking and problem-solving. Attorneys need to collaborate with the scientific and engineering communities to think about and begin addressing the issues raised by converging technologies and examine potential problems before they become reality. Because NBIC will reveal new problems and new solutions not considered in advance, regulation and legislation must evolve with caution. These are disruptive technologies that could bring immense benefits while simultaneously causing sudden and turbulent widespread change and transformation in such a way that previous competitive and business rules no longer apply. Sonia E. Miller, a solo practitioner in New York and Washington, D.C., is the founder of the Converging Technologies Bar Association. Mihail C. Roco, a senior advisor of Nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation, and chair of the Subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology of the U.S. National Science and Technology Council, contributed to this article. If you are interested in submitting an article to law.com, please click here for our submission guidelines.

This content has been archived. It is available through our partners, LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law.

To view this content, please continue to their sites.

Not a Lexis Advance® Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Not a Bloomberg Law Subscriber?
Subscribe Now

Why am I seeing this?

LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law are third party online distributors of the broad collection of current and archived versions of ALM's legal news publications. LexisNexis® and Bloomberg Law customers are able to access and use ALM's content, including content from the National Law Journal, The American Lawyer, Legaltech News, The New York Law Journal, and Corporate Counsel, as well as other sources of legal information.

For questions call 1-877-256-2472 or contact us at [email protected]

Reprints & Licensing
Mentioned in a Law.com story?

License our industry-leading legal content to extend your thought leadership and build your brand.


ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2021 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.