U.S. Nanotechnology Policy: Bridging the Gaps
Richard H. Smith*
Co-Founder, the Nanotechnology Policy Foundation
Since well before the creation of the U. S. National Nanotechnology Initiative there has been a debate between futurists who envision the role nanotechnology might play ten, twenty, or more years from now and physical scientists who tend to think in more concrete terms—more reliably predictable (and therefore more near-term) perspectives. There are some players who seem able to bridge the gap without being accused by one side of being purveyors of "hype" or by the other of being shortsighted. But these "translators" are in short supply. And there are some disagreements (e.g., molecular manufacturing) that seem so far to be irresolvable.
There are, however, some issues that lend themselves to finding a common ground. The environmental implications of nanotechnology present one such issue: we have on one hand the here-and-now matter of Buckytube toxicity and, on the other, an agreement (at least in principle) that we will have a future full of nanomaterials, nanowaste, nano-assisted energy collection, and perhaps nano-enabled fuel cells for automobiles. It's just possible, all seem to agree, that nanotechnology can have positive and negative environmental implications and that forward engagement with the possibilities will be a useful enterprise.
Maybe, just maybe, we can use the environmental implications of nanotechnology as a practice field for matching the scientific know-how of physical scientists with the thoughtful strategic thinking of futurists.
The speaker has a decade of experience in thinking about nanotechnology policy issues. He proposed a thesis on nanotechnology policy in 1994 (that wasn't accepted as an acceptable topic until Richard Smalley won the Nobel Prize in 1996.)
Richard Smith is the Co-Founder of the Nanotechnology Policy Foundation and President of the Nanotechnology Network. He is also a Principal in the nanotechnology commercialization firm, Nanoverse LLC. He was a Senior Futurist for the Institute for Alternative Futures, a healthcare and pharma think tank in Washington, DC, and the Director of the Global Forum on Technology Forecasting for Coates & Jarratt, Inc. He has been involved in the study of nanotechnology since 1994, writing his thesis on nanotechnology policy and serving on the biotechnology and nanotechnology study section and the final design team for the Department of Defense Military Health System 2025 task force. He co-chaired the symposium on the convergence of nanotechnology and biotechnology at the annual meeting of the AAAS in 2003.
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