Nanotechnology has the potential, within the next decade or two, to sharply increase the quality, cleanliness, efficiency, and profitability of manufacturing. It could offer better housing, sanitation, healthcare, nutrition, and educational opportunities. It could allow us to live in closer harmony with our environment, and to adopt truly sustainable -- but rich and fulfilling -- lifestyles. It could enable great strides forward toward equal opportunities for all, everywhere in the world.
It could. But that doesn't mean it will.
In yesterday's post, we mentioned the existing North-South divide, and the concern that emerging technologies will only widen the gap between have and have-not, instead of narrowing it. With all the amazing potential of nanotechnology to offer change, it can't by itself overcome long-standing irrational prejudices.
In many countries, lighter-skinned persons generally receive favorable treatment over darker-skinned persons. This has been going on for centuries, of course, and today remains an unsavory vestige of (primarily) European colonialism.
The effects of both past and present racial discrimination are still visible in public places all around the world. Go to an expensive hotel or a major office building and look around; you'll notice that those in serving occupations are, as a whole, darker-skinned than those being served.
And such pervasive inequities are not limited to "third world" countries. For example, a recent study found that job applicants in the US with "white-sounding names are 50 percent more likely to get called for an initial interview than applicants with African-American-sounding names."
So, who will be the benificiary of all the wonders that molecular manufacturing may offer? Unless we take a hard look at these problems and at ourselves, there's no guarantee that things will get better for the majority of earth's inhabitants...and they might just get worse.
The sad truth is that nanotechnology probably will have no effect at all on changing our attitudes. For that, we'll have to look somewhere else.