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A unique new global organization for lawyers, scientists, medical professionals, industry executives and government officials was announced Friday at a noon press conference in New York. Brainchild of Manhattan solo attorney Sonia E. Miller, the Converging Technologies Bar Association will address the legal and ethical uncertainties about a new frontier of scientific advancement so transformative that some would say the very definition of humanity is at question. Lawyers, Miller suggests, have a natural role in examining and even answering such questions — especially young lawyers. “If you want to forge new territory, if you’re not just interested in practicing law but crafting new law, this is a perfect area,” said Miller in an interview before the press conference. “It takes a visionary.” The vision she has in mind is a scientific renaissance, news of which is rapidly moving from technological journals to mainstream media: the application of nanotechnology to medicine, computers and the cognitive sciences of psychology, cultural anthropology, linguistics, economics, sociology, neuroscience, artificial intelligence and machine learning. In science and industry, nanotechnology work is done on the scale of a nanometer, or one-billionth of a meter — about a fifteen-thousandth the diameter of a human hair. Professor Ralph C. Merkle of Georgia Tech describes nanotechnology this way: “If we rearrange the atoms in coal, we can make a diamond … If we rearrange the atoms in dirt, water and air, we can make potatoes,” he wrote in a publication for his university. “Today’s manufacturing methods are very crude at the molecular level. “Casting, grinding, milling and even lithography move atoms in great, thundering statistical herds. It’s like trying to make things out of LEGO blocks with boxing gloves on your hands. Yes, you can push the LEGO blocks into great heaps and pile them up, but you can’t really snap them together the way you’d like. “In the future,” Merkle wrote, “nanotechnology will let us take off the boxing gloves.” We are thus living in an “Age of Transition,” as Miller describes it, a time when soon we shall see breathless advances, thanks to converging technologies. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s diseases could be eradicated, environmental pollution eliminated, preventive healthcare guaranteed, advanced molecular-cluster manufacturing for use across industries. And, as Miller wrote in the October 2003 issue of Empire magazine, something “as small as a button on your shirt — and as cheap — could contain a computer more powerful than a desktop work station of today, connected to the ubiquitous Web and bringing you any information you wanted if you simply whisper your question.” But on the flip side, she further wrote: “Enhancement of fetus capabilities and designer baby options are strong concerns, where open dialogue is necessitated. A definition of what it means to be a person and a human may be legally required.” The question of who has access to, owns, controls, monitors and stores your genomic-phenomic profile will need to be addressed. Can the legal system, as it exists today, protect and prepare the unwary consumer and willing user when [converging technologies] are vastly improving human performance? Can intellectual property and technology licensing practices cope with the rapidly changing realities? Miller’s was elected provisional president of the bar association on Wednesday by the current handful of members. Philadelphia patent attorney Gerry Elman was named vice president, and Philadelphia computer entrepreneur Drew Lehman as director at-large. In Albany, solo patent attorney Sander Marc Levin heads a chapter of six members, a mix of patent lawyers, patent agents and graduate biotech students. New York City’s fledgling membership is approaching 10, Miller said, half of them solo attorneys. Other chapters, she said, are anticipated in Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. The formation of the national bar group follows the establishment of Albany NanoTech in January, the nation’s first college of nanotechnology at the University of Albany. The college, in turn, followed by days the enactment by Congress of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, at $3.7 billion over the next four years the largest such scientific program in Washington’s history, an act that Gov. George E. Pataki credited as “leading to the next industrial revolution.” On the medical front of the revolution, Miller’s new bar group seeks the counsel of ethicists such as Wayne Shelton, co-director of the master’s program in bioethics at Albany Medical College. “As we move forward with science and technology, ethical and legal issues are left basically unaddressed,” said Shelton in an interview. In terms of stem cell research, for instance, an advance that some politicians and U.S. religious leaders have vociferously opposed, “It’s necessary to use blastocysts [single single human cells, no more than two weeks old, yet capable of eventual multiplication to adult form],” he said. “Now, that’s organic life. Biological life. But is it moral life?” For the right purpose, he added, it would be ethically sound to sacrifice blastocyst life for the greater good of ending the misery of Alzheimer’s disease, for instance. “Proportionality becomes the key — in medicine and law,” he said. “Where do you draw the line? You’d have to have a [medical] purpose of equal importance to the sacrifice of life.” Miller sees the Converging Technologies Bar Association as the natural place to debate such drawing of lines. As a Silicon Valley entrepreneur before earning a J.D. from New York Law School in 1996, she is experienced in the technological world. For several years, she headed the Cyberspace Law Committee at the New York County Lawyers’ Association, growing its membership to 100 attorneys. For her new endeavor, Miller does not see the specialty organization as large as the American Bar Association, “but definitely larger” than the New York State Bar. “Anyhow, it’s my baby,” she said. “And I didn’t clone it.”

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