Attitudes to nanotech regulation

Attitudes to nanotech regulation

An article this past weekend on Nanowerk reports on a study about attitudes toward regulation of nanotechnology among nanoscientists and the general public:

As reported in the online version of the Journal of Nanoparticle Research today (June 19), Scheufele and Corley found that the public tends to focus on the benefits — rather than potential environmental and health risks — when making decisions about nanotechnology regulation, whereas scientists mainly focus on potential risks and economic values.
“We think that nanoscientists view regulations as protections for the public, and that’s part of the reason why they focus on the potential risks,” says Corley, the Lincoln Professor of Public Policy, Ethics and Emerging Technologies in ASU’s School of Public Affairs. “On the other hand, the public seems to think of nanotechnology regulations as restricting their access to new products and other beneficial aspects of nanotechnology.”
According to the study, leading U.S. nanoscientists believe regulations are most urgently needed in the areas of surveillance and privacy, human enhancement, medicine and the environment. At the same time, this group feels that other areas, including machines and computers, have little need for further regulation.

Confounding the study, of course, or any study like this, would be the fact that what the researchers are calling “nanotechnology” and what the public thinks it is are two different things. And of course anyone writing in the Journal of Nanoparticle Research is likely to be about as far from a notion of nanomachines, even nanoelectronics with no moving parts, as anyone in the field.

To my mind, this is just another piece of evidence that the word nanotechnology has broadened to the point where it is more a hindrance than a help in understanding what’s really going on and how the future of technology may develop.

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  1. Chris Guglielmelli June 23, 2009 at 9:14 am - Reply

    Regulation is not only necessary but extremly inportant to the survival of the planet. Just take a look at what a handful of “punks” did to the internet. There are those out there that no scruples or morales. If this type of person accesees nanotechnology, the resulting bug or virus created could easily end the planet as we know it. Imagine a nanobot that does nothing but reproduce and collect oxygen. We would be a venus like planet with nothing but toxic gasses. We need regualtion and stiff penalities for ANY violations. A breach in nanotechnology security won’t just bring down your computer, it will end your life and our future as a whole.

  2. Chris Peterson June 24, 2009 at 11:33 am - Reply

    I would agree that the word nanotechnology may be more of a hindrance at this point. It’s worth thinking about how to change our terminology.

    Regarding the Scheufele/Corley paper, it’s hard to see why anyone should think regulations about the use of nanotech in human enhancement are anywhere near “urgent” at this point. This sounds like a PR-related concern triggered by the excessive attention that “nano impact” fundees are giving this topic.

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