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LST, Lincoln Center faculty receive federal grant

September 25, 2009

The National Science Foundation has awarded a large grant to a transdisciplinary team of faculty at Arizona State University to continue research on the growing lag between emerging technologies and the policies and ethics that govern them, and to recommend solutions for improving the timeliness and flexibility of these regulatory processes.

The $266,296 grant will fund the project, "Adapting Law to Rapid Technological Change," as a continuation of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics' "Pacing Project." The project will be directed by Gary Marchant, executive director of the Center for the Study of Law, Science & Technology at the Sandra Day O'Connor College of Law; Andrew Askland, the center's director; Braden Allenby, the ASU Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering; and Joseph Herkert, the ASU Lincoln Associate Professor of Ethics and Technology in the School of Letters and Sciences.

"As technology advances ever more quickly, the legal system's ability to act responsively to it is slowing down," says Marchant, the grant's principal investigator. "The purpose of this project is to demonstrate that there is a problem and to find new mechanisms for more dynamic and responsive oversight."

Peter French, director of the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics and the Lincoln Chair in Ethics, said the federal grant will carry on the multiyear project the center funded to produce innovative solutions for bringing law and ethics into pace with the issues being raised by the emerging technologies.

"The 'Pacing Project' that we funded as a launching pad for the current study focused on the inability of existing public policy and ethical and legal tools to keep pace with developments in areas such as genetics, biotechnology, nanotechnology, information technology, cognitive sciences and enhancement technology," French says. "Brad, Joe and Gary have taken the lead internationally in trying to develop systematic approaches to what clearly are and will continue to be among the most important issues confronting the global society."

Many examples exist of the law not keeping pace with technology, Marchant says, such as genetic testing that is rapidly being deployed in many medical applications, but there is little, if any, regulatory approval or oversight of these tests.

"Another is nanotechnology," he says. "We have this technology going forward in enormously unprecedented ways, and the regulatory systems have not been able to keep up."

This is both dangerous for public health and safety, and is a roadblock to investors in the technology community.

"The accelerating rate of technological evolution in areas such as robotics, biotechnology and neurotechnology has created a serious need to better understand how global technology systems of unprecedented complexity and power can be better regulated," Allenby says.

The pacing project received initial funding of $80,000 from the Lincoln Center, which has helped the researchers determine the seriousness of the gap between law and technology, Herkert says.

"But we have a lot of work to do, and with this funding from the NSF, we will be able to tackle the problem head on and develop models that may enable policymakers, courts and regulators to respond more quickly," he adds.

The project will involve several case studies, workshops and one or more books during the three-year term of the grant, Marchant says.

 Janie Magruder,
(480) 727-9052
Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law