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Applying Nanotechnology to the Challenges of Global Poverty

Bryan Bruns*

Foresight Institute
Palo Alto, CA 94306 USA

This is an abstract for a presentation given at the
1st Conference on Advanced Nanotechnology:
Research, Applications, and Policy

Paper prepared from this talk as 148 KB PDF
Slide presentation as 260 KB PDF
Audio as 5.3 MB MP3


Billions of people around the world still suffer from inadequate access to clean water, energy, information, shelter, health care, and other basic needs. Even with continuing progress in poverty reduction, many people will probably still be poor when molecular manufacturing technologies become available. Advanced nanotechnologies could help poor people improve their lives, if developed in ways that are appropriate and accessible. This presentation uses examples of potential molecular manufacturing products to illustrate future opportunities and strategies for applying nanotechnology to reduce global poverty and promote sustainable prosperity.

Research and development of appropriate applications could increase the potential benefits from applying advanced nanotechnology. Point-of-use water filtration could purify water for those who do not have clean and reliable water supplies. Solar cells integrated into roofing panels could yield a safe and sustainable source of inexpensive energy. Continuing drastic reductions in the cost of information technologies, enabled by nanotechnology, would facilitate universal access to computing and communications. Packaging of integrated systems applying advanced nanotechnology for diagnostic testing, custom formulation of medication, and targeted delivery of treatments, could help deliver medical care where doctors and hospitals are scarce. Materials formulated with molecular precision could provide better shelter and tools. Molecular manufacturing could enable clean production and new methods for environmental remediation, enabling global abundance to be both feasible and sustainable. Actual applications of nanotechnology will depend on a range of factors, including the evolution of related technologies such as biotechnology and information technology, economic systems, and institutions regulating intellectual property. Illustrative examples of possible applications such as those discussed above, may be useful for planning scenarios, identifying objectives for research and development, and formulating strategies to improve access to the benefits of advanced nanotechnology.

Access to the benefits of molecular manufacturing will depend on how the technologies are developed and made available. A range of strategies could expand access. Many technologies will lend themselves to commercial provision, with market dynamics helping to reduce costs and deliver decentralized solutions. Appropriate design could pro-actively adapt technological solutions to the needs of poor people. Open standards could facilitate universal availability. Suitable design of intellectual property institutions could help to expand access to useful knowledge and improve incentives to solve problems. Guidelines, templates, and procedures for safe design and operation could reduce risks of abuse and promote affordable international access.

Application of advanced nanotechnology is likely be profoundly disruptive, posing challenges of socioeconomic transition. Useful lessons can be learned from earlier transitions from agricultural to industrial to service economies, and transitions from command to market economies. Molecular manufacturing could not only help to alleviate material deprivation, and illness, but also expand opportunities for personal growth and participation in larger endeavors. Suitable policies and programs could facilitate individual and social adjustment to expanding opportunities for personal growth, experience, exploration, and participation in challenging projects.

*Corresponding Address:
Bryan Bruns
Foresight Institute
PO Box 4614, Santa Rosa Beach, FL 32459 USA
Phone: 850 231-1787
Email: BryanBruns@BryanBruns.com
Web: http://www.BryanBruns.com