Today we complete our series of five installments analyzing nanotechnology and risk...
Earlier this week, we began with Part 1, an overview of existing nanoscale technologies, and Part 2, assessing the risks of nanoscale technology. Part 3 described molecular manufacturing, while Part 4 reviewed the risks of molecular manufacturing.
Part 5: Conclusion and Recommendations
The term nanotechnology applies to two very different fields. Nanoscale technology risks arise largely from medical and environmental risks of nanoparticles, which is being addressed by organizations such as Rice University's CBEN and projects such as the U.K. Royal Society's report and the U.S. National Science Foundation's recent workshop. It appears that this risk has been recognized and is being addressed, though industry as well as environmental groups encourage more public funding for studies of nanoparticles.
Nanoscale technology of all sorts is haunted by worries about the effect of misunderstandings concerning molecular manufacturing. Developers of nanoscale technology will want to avoid being linked with either premature expectations or fears arising from more powerful but distant molecular manufacturing. Denial of molecular manufacturing is not a good strategy and probably never was; there is too much experiment and theory supporting it, and the arguments against its feasibility are increasingly hollow. Instead, industry representatives should work to educate the media and the public on the differences between nanoscale technologies and molecular manufacturing.
As molecular manufacturing develops, it will become a source of risk for a wide range of institutions, including those not involved in developing it. The effects of a manufacturing revolution could be extremely widespread, disrupting even geopolitical and macroeconomic stability. The first step in preparing for this is to build a reliable body of knowledge about the fundamental technical possibilities and their social, economic, and policy implications. Unfortunately, almost nothing is known about how all these effects will play out.
No commercial or governmental organization has taken serious steps to study molecular manufacturing and lay the foundations for sensible policy. A few organizations including the NSF are making noises about global policy implications, but are nonetheless engaged in ignoring or denying molecular manufacturing. To begin filling the void, CRN introduced the Wise-Nano project, a collaborative website for researching the facts and implications of advanced nanotechnology. We believe that a cooperative affiliation of international study efforts offers the best opportunity to promote good policy and reduce risk. Wise-Nano.org is an initial step in that direction.