Emerging technologies

In the past decades a variety of developments in the field of biomedicine have been addressed by the Council of Europe. While recognizing these developments as a potential benefit for human health and welfare, the Council also realizes the possibility of abuse as a reason for concern from the perspective of human rights and human dignity. On the basis of the common framework provided by the European Convention on Human Rights and Biomedicine, or Oviedo Convention (1997), the Committee on Bioethics of the Council of Europe (DH-BIO) has considered various ethical and legal challenges raised by the applications of biology and medicine.

In recent years innovations in the biomedical field are more and more emerging from the convergence of developments in different domains, including nanotechnology, cognitive science and information technology. As a result of this convergence, we can observe an increasing interaction between the life sciences and the engineering sciences. This interaction and convergence between different scientific and technological fields also raises new questions about the implications of these developments for human rights and human dignity.

For DH-BIO, there is a clear need to look into these new developments in order to be able to respond to the possible ethical and legal challenges raised by these new technologies and their convergence.

As a first step in this process, DH-BIO invited the Rathenau Instituut (Netherlands) to provide an overview of the complexity and variety of developments in the field of emerging technologies, including the convergence of nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive technology, so-called NBIC convergence, and their current and possible applications in or outside the biomedical field.

A second study has been prepared by the Centre for the Study of Sciences and Humanities of the University of Bergen (Norway). It analyses more specifically the ethical issues raised by emerging technologies and their convergence.

These two studies will be presented at an International Conference on Emerging Technologies and Human Rights foreseen on 4-5 May 2015 under the auspices of the Belgian Chairmanship of the Committee of Ministers of the Council of Europe. This conference will aim at identifying priority human rights challenges raised by emerging technologies and their convergence. Its conclusions will be used as a basis for a white paper.