A couple of years ago, I read lots of article about nanotechnology and maybe if I had been asked back then to identify risks, I would have suggested it. But I must admit that I was surprised when saw nanotechnology on the Report from the Global Challenges Foundation (see also blogpost Thinking about the Future). This shows not only how time influences you and how you slowly get used to ideas, but also how important it is to carefully explore lots of suggestions before making a list of risk
So why nanotechonlogy?
Let us start with what it is? And the benefits of nanotechnology.
Nanotechnology is atomically precise engineering. One nanometer is small, one billionth, or 10−9, of a meter. Nanotechnology is about doing thing at a scale between a hundred thousand times and a thousand times thinner than one of your hairs.
“Most benefits of nanotechnology depend on the fact that it is possible to tailor the essential structures of materials at the nanoscale to achieve specific properties, thus greatly extending the well-used tool-kits of materials science. Using nanotechnology, materials can effectively be made to be stronger, lighter, more durable, more reactive, more sieve-like, or better electrical conductors, among many other traits.” From Nano.gov
Thus, nanotechnology has the potential to provide solutions for a range of problems such as pollution and climate change, We can create and design resilient materials, greener more powerful vehicles, nano robots that can help perform medical surgery, filtration of water and low-cost detection of pollution in water and air.
Nanotechnology is going to be part of everyday life and today you can find it in sport equipment, cosmetics as well as electronics. So what are the “no nos of nanotechnology”?
- nanopollutants – nanoparticles are small and they can enter or be absorbed in your skin – today, nanoparticles are used in anti-aging cosmetics and sunscreens use
- privacy invasion – devices can be designed to increase the spying on citizens and corporation as well as on governments.
- weapons – nanotechonolgy weapons can be designed as small as an insect and nanotechnology arms is a possible treat to humans as well as to animals.
- artificial blood-cells made by nanotechnology could damage the environment
The list of possible risk with a breakthrough technology such as nanotechnology is long, but the greatest risk is that short-term monetary benefits are prioritized over a long-term approach where the consequences of each product is carefully studied. Lesson from technologies such as synthetic chemistry and the chemicals revolution should have made us all a bit more careful about the safety of new products.