Maximizing Benefits & Minimizing Downsides of Nanotechnology
The effects of early nanotech development are already being felt, from stain-resistant pants to concerns about nanoparticle toxicity. But these impacts are minor compared to the more dramatic expected applications of advanced nanotechnologies, especially molecular machine systems.
The ability to quickly and inexpensively build and repair objects of any size, with atomic precision, will bring radical change to areas as disparate as medicine, energy and resources, national security, space technology, environmental remediation, and meeting the needs of the developing world. Molecular manufacturing will alter virtually every area of physical technology, bringing across-the-board technological disruption.
Whether viewed economically, militarily, or philanthropically, this technology will dominate before mid-century. Surveys show that the U.S. public is strongly pro-nanotechnology -- today. We have a historic opportunity to develop and guide molecular manufacturing for beneficial applications, and steer it away from potential abuses.
To accomplish this, we need (1) a focused R&D effort on molecular machine systems leading to molecular manufacturing, as described in Foresight's Roadmap to Productive Molecular Machine Systems, and (2) incorporation of this expected technological change into national and international long-term policy strategies across the board, from security and space to the environment and health care. The Foresight Guidelines on Molecular Nanotechnology, just revised, can assist in ensuring responsible development pathways. Collaboration on the Roadmap and Guidelines by interested agencies is welcomed.
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