PhysOrg.com reports that:
A new law specifically targeting nanotechnology could prove necessary to regulate its potential risks and promoting its continued development, experts told UPI's Nano World.
Those experts are David Rejeski and Terry Davies, both from the Washington-based Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies. Last week, we wrote about the report they recently issued, which "concludes that current U.S. laws and regulations cannot adequately protect the public against the risks of nanotechnology."
CRN is pleased to see this issue gaining momentum. Even though the first level of laws being discussed will deal only with nanoscale technologies and not with molecular manufacturing, it's a step in the right direction -- a step that begins paving the way for even more important discussions about the societal and environmental implications of advanced nanotechnology.
Of course, not everyone is as pleased as we are. Criticism came from the expected quarters.
"New regulations would be a disaster at this point," said Sonia Arrison, director of technology studies at the Pacific Research Institute (PRI), a San Francisco-based public-policy think tank. "Nanotechnology, the manipulation of matter at the level of individual atoms and molecules, offers the greatest benefits for society if left to grow through modest regulation, civilian research, and an emphasis on self-regulation and responsible professional culture."
Given that the "vision" of PRI encourages "policies that emphasize a free economy, private initiative, and limited government," we're not surprised at this reaction. Of course, CRN agrees that enacting regulations on molecular manufacturing would be a mistake at this point, since much more study is needed before we can even understand where to begin.
However, modest regulation for existing nanomaterial research and production should be considered now.
But not everyone agrees with that, either.
"The net effect would be to slow things down," said Matthew Nordan, Vice President of Lux Research, a nanotech business advisory firm. A new law could be "very onerous and perhaps premature, given the limited knowledge of the impact of nanomaterials."
Defending the position of the Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies, Terry Davies argued that waiting before instituting regulation would lead to years of delay, opening the public and industry to years of risk.
"You've got a technology or set of technologies in a field that's evolving very rapidly and will continue to evolve very rapidly for the foreseeable future. So even if we're talking about putting something in place 20 years from now, whatever you put in there is going to be obsolete pretty fast also," Davies said. "One of the characteristics which hopefully you can incorporate in anything that you do in the way of legislation is an ability to adapt fast, to change fast, to keep up with the changes in the technology itself."
Davies cautioned that a nanotech law was unlikely unless there was a pretty strong consensus that it was needed. Even if dialogue concerning a nanotech law does not lead to legislation, it could help "identify ways in which we can get an oversight system that is adequate to deal with the technology," he said. In the meantime, programs could coordinate, amend and strengthen existing laws to help manage nanotechnology.
That's absolutely right. If we wait 20 years to make an informed decision about regulation to responsibly manage nanotechnology, it will be too late.
UPDATE: More thoughts.