Nanotech is starting with several big handicaps. First, it is highly complex and most people have only the vaguest idea what it is about. Much of the language is opaque and alienating.
Second, there are unanswered questions about the safety of (quantum) nano devices and how they will interact with living tissue.
Third, there has been a lot of hype about wonderful new applications -- and this makes the public nervous about the downsides they are not being told about. In other words, the communication has so far been one-sided and unbalanced.
Correct, correct, and correct. We've written before about the third point, one-sided hype.
Fourth, major investors include defence establishments who clearly hope it will deliver more efficient means to make war. In other words, like nuclear science, harmful applications of nanotech are already in contemplation -- and the public knows this.
Yep, the people ain't dumb.
Fifth, quantum computers and nanobots-nanosensors, once invented, will have undreamed-of power to amass data on every person living in an advanced society and to observe, store and analyse all their actions. This may become the gravest infringement of personal liberty in history.
As with GM, while there are numerous benefits to industry there are, so far, few consumer benefits on offer (except maybe sunscreen and self-cleaning paint!). Nanotech has not made a very good fist of answering the public's question: "What's in it for me?"
There has been little or no dialogue to determine how society would wish nanotech to be applied or regulated. This smacks of technocratical arrogance and "we know what's best for you." Also, most nanotech research is publicly funded, but the results are likely to be privately appropriated.
These concerns add up to a perception of loss of control and freedom for the public to determine how technologies are used -- which is likely to generate concern and resistance, calls for regulation and even moratoria (loss of public sanction for the technology).
Julian Cribb, author of the quoted opinion piece, is right on target. It seems clear to us that candor about the risks plus openness about purposes and processes is the best way to avoid a public backlash.