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A Layperson's View of Future Technology and Society

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Nanotechnology Risks

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Ready or not, here it comes. In the next 20 years, nanotechnology will touch the life of nearly every person on the planet. The potential benefits are mind boggling and brain enhancing. But like many of the great advancements in earth's history, it is not without risk Here are some of the risks posed to society by nanotechnology.

Real Risk: Nanopollutants
When: Now

Nanopollutants are nanoparticles small enough to enter your lungs or be absorbed by your skin. Nanopollutants can be natural or man-made. Nanoparticles are used in some of the products found on shelves today, like anti-aging cosmetics and sunscreen. The highest risk is to the workers in nano-technology research and manufacturing processes.

Potential Risk: Privacy Invasion
When: 5 to 15 years

Virtually undetectable surveillance devices could dramatically increase spying on governments, corporations and private citizens.

Potential Risk: Economic Upheaval
When: 10 to 20 years

Molecular manufacturing is the assembly of products one molecule at a time. It could make the same products you see today, but far more precisely and at a very low cost. It is unclear whether this would bring boom or bust to the global economy.

Potential Risk: Nanotech weapons
When: 10 to 20 years

Untraceable weapons made with nanotechnology could be smaller than an insect with the intelligence of a supercomputer. Possible nano and bio technology arms race.

Far-Fetched Risk: Gray Goo
When: 30+ years

Free range, self-replicating robots that consume all living matter. However unlikely, experts say this scenario is theoretically possible, but not for some time.
We have just scratched the surface.

There are many areas of nanotechnology science that hold potential dangers to society. Bio-engineering and artificial intelligence for example, have their own set of risks.

As we enter an era of unprecedented understanding, it is important that society takes a proactive role in the responsible development of nanotechnology.

The Future Code

future code animation

I found a hidden message inside a recent article reporting on a new method of preventing nanoparticle induced lung damage in mice.

Here are some actual quotes from the article:

"Nanomaterials are now used in a variety of products, including sporting goods, cosmetics and electronics."

"Nanotechnology... is an important emerging industry with a projected annual market of around one trillion US dollars by

"The US Food and Drug Administration has approved some first generation nanodrugs."

"Although nanoparticles have been linked to lung damage, it has not been clear how they cause it."

"...the findings could also provide important insight into how nanoparticles cause other toxic effects."

The message I decoded from this article is--"Industry" is using materials in consumer products, that are believed to be unsafe.

My biggest concern is not the nanotubes on your face. It is the long-standing business practice of putting profit before people--and what will happen in the future, when technology really gets scary.

The greatest dangers that technology can pose to humanity, will come from its rush to market.

Nanotechnology Risk Articles, Blogs and Web Sites

All Links open in a new window. Bold = Recommended. Links do not imply endorsement.

Nanotechnology Risk Articles
Title Source Date
Some nanoparticles commonly added to consumer products can significantly damage DNA Phys.org 04/14
Experts Warn Against Nanosilver Laboratory Equipment 02/14
New NIST Tests Explore Safety of Nanotubes in Modern Plastics Over Time NIST 01/14
Nanoparticles in food, vitamins could harm human health Cornell University 03/12
With Prevalence of Nanomaterials Rising, Panel Urges Review of Risks NY Times 01/12
A realistic look at the promises and perils of nanomedicine KurzweilAi.net 11/11
Carbon Nanoparticles Break Barriers--and That May Not Be Good Indiana University 09/11
Research moves nanomedicine one step closer to reality Stanford School of Medicine 04/11
Is nanotechnology a health time bomb? NewScientist 11/08
Testing the Toxicity of Nanomaterials Technology Review 06/08
Nanotube 'Asbestos' Warning BBC News 05/08
Environmental impact of silver nanoparticles University of Missouri-Columbia 04/08
As nanotech goes mainstream, 'toxic socks' raise concerns PhysOrg 04/08
Manufactured buckyballs don't harm microbes that clean the environment Nanowerk 04/08
First Direct Images of Carbon Nanotubes Entering Cells PhysOrg 11/07
Nanotechnology risks - where are we today? Nanowerk 09/07
Consumer Reports says more testing, regulation needed for nanotechnology Chatham Journal Newspaper 06/07
Scientists advance safety of nanotechnology PhysOrg 04/07
Nanotech Product Recalled in Germany The Washington Post 04/07
Weighing nanotechnology's risks New York times 03/07
Nanotechnology Risks Unknown The Washington Post 09/06
Scientists Worry About Potential Risks of Nanotechnology in Food LiveScience 09/06
Nanoparticles can damage DNA, increase cancer risk PhysOrg 04/06
Nanoparticles may pose threat to liver cells PhysOrg 04/06
Probing the promise and perils of nanoparticles PhysOrg 03/05


Nanotechnology Risk Web Sites and Blogs
Title Description
Dangers of Molecular Manufacturing Center for Responsible Nanotechnology
IRGC International Risk Governance Council
Nanotechnology White Paper EPA
Nano-silver a Threat to Public Health Friends of the Earth
Project on Emerging Nanotechnologies Helping ensure nanotechnologies risks are minimized
Risk Assessment of Nanoparticles IOM


Article Sources
Nano No Nos Article and image by ffa
The Future Code Article and image by ffa
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