Source: Nanotech Buzz
Nanotechnology is a flashpoint in the debate about our use of technology. It’s a technology that, according to M.C. Roco, chair of the National Science and Technology Council’s subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology, “is likely to change the way almost everything–from vaccines to computers to automobile tires to objects not yet imagined–is designed and made.”
Any technology with the potential to change everything understandably stirs strong feelings both for and against. Technophobes like Wendell Berry believe that technology has done more harm than good. Technoromanticists like Ray Kurzweil believe it can solve all our energy and environmental problems and help us to live forever. But nanotechnology is, like every technology, a tool—in this case, a very, very powerful tool.
Nanotechnology is not inherently good or evil, and it will not change our human nature, which determines how we use technology. What it will change is the magnitude of the impact that technology has on our lives. Probably it will have a greater impact than any other technology. That’s saying a lot when you think about the impact that computers, nuclear energy and plastics have had on our lives. But nanotechnology is unlike any technological genie we’ve uncorked before. At the nanoscale, the boundaries between living and non-living things blur, and it becomes possible to create products that build themselves and respond intelligently to their users and environment.
But as profound as these impacts may be, nanotechnology will neither destroy us nor make us immortal. It will simply amplify the consequences of our use of technology. The good things that we do with nanotechnology will be even better than the good things we’ve done before. Unfortunately, the bad things that we do with nanotechnology will be even worse than the bad things we’ve done before.
There’s no magic in it that will allow us to bypass our own human nature and use it only for the good. But because its potential impact is so great, and because it is moving forward so quickly, the time is now to discuss how we want to use it, controlling the negative consequences as much as possible while welcoming the good.
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