Just Say Nano

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A new study released by Greenpeace urges caution about nanotech. In some areas, it seems surprisingly measured, but it also goes a little wacky in places, painting a sci-fi picture of a few first-world Eloi living in high tech bliss while the ballooning populations of Third World Morlocks are further immiserated. It's not entirely clear why that's less likely than a diffusion of technology that shortens the development curve of poor countries, which would be more in line with the experience of the last half-century… but it sure does sound scary.

The study was quickly and vehemently attacked by industry groups, a reaction that Howard Lovy argues may prove counterproductive, since it sends the impression that nanotech companies are unwilling to slow down and think about potential problems. There may be something to this: I haven't yet scrutinized the report in detail, but you don't have to be a raving green to worry that nanotech in the wrong hands could be terrifyingly destructive, and the industry is unlikely to assuage those fears if it automatically brushes off criticism as "industrial terrorism."

Coincidentally, Scientific American reports today that researchers at Berkeley have developed "the smallest synthetic motor that's ever been made," with a wide range of potential applications.

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  1. “but you don’t have to be a raving green to worry that nanotech in the wrong hands could be terrifyingly destructive”

    As can any technology in the wrong hands. I yawn at the Green’s concerns – after they have made a few predictions and policy prescriptions that have some demonstrable connection to reality, I may begin to pay attention to them again.

  2. The third world has what they need to equal the U.S. standard of living in a generation. All they have to do is give up their savage ways that hold them down.

  3. I’m going through the Greenpeace study, and I didn’t even make it to the table of contents before laughing. Page two contains nothing but the publisher info in the corner (standard, I suppose, but you’d think the greens would couple it with the title page). Beyond that, page three contains a repeat of the publishers info and the only other new info is to let you know that this was printed on 100% recycled paper. How many hard copies of this did they make? Do they think recycling is an energy free procedure and therefore using recycled paper uses no resources? Why is this page included in the PDF? How many copies of this page will now be printed out on paper both recycled and non-recycled?

    Nitpicky? Of course I am, but if you’re putting Greenpeace Environmental Trust on the coverpage, you’re going to be held to a higher standard.

  4. Gene 6-Pack,

    “All they have to do is give up their savage ways that hold them down.”

    Care to explain ?

  5. Somebody help me understand why doing more with less (the essence of nanotechnology) is bad for the environment. Isn’t nanotech kind of the ultimate in conservation of resources?

  6. If we have, as you say, “a few first-world Eloi living [among] populations of Third World Morlocks,” does that mean that we can start eating first-worlders?

    The Morlocks had the good end of that deal.
    –G

  7. Since when did Greenpeace have any credibility as a scientific ( or any other type of ) organization? This report started swirling round the bowl the minute it was finished.

  8. By “you” in “Which is why you should listen with your brain and not your heart.” I meant “everybody” and not just Julian.

  9. “It’s not entirely clear why that’s less(shouldn’t that be “more”?) likely than a diffusion of technology that shortens the development curve of poor countries, which would be more in line with the experience of the last half-century… but it sure does sound scary.”

    Which is why you should listen with your brain and not your heart.

    “but you don’t have to be a raving green to worry that nanotech in the wrong hands could be terrifyingly destructive”

    The state is “wrong hands” that has employed various technologies to the end of mass destruction again and again. Nano shows so much wide ranging potential that having the government regulate it may well throttle human progress. If allowed to develop in a free market environment, far from being “terrifyingly destructive”, its products stand to enrich us all.

  10. what people fail to adequately cover with the “in the wrong hands” concepts are that

    “the wrong hands hand owners” usually have a reason to want to do things in a harmful way

    its much easier to treat people in more reasonable and dignifiable way than it is to stop them from fighting back using technology.

    you can’t really stop technology.

    if you think of everything in the world from a worst possible scenario angle then you usually have little reason to wake in the morning.

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