Finding a rational approach to nanotech opportunities and dangers

Glenn Reynolds, a professor of law at the University of Tennessee and a Foresight Board member, comments on the recent attention from both policy makers and the media to the potential opportunities and dangers of nanotechnology in an article on the TechCentral Station website ("Donít Be Afraid. Donít Be Very Afraid: Nanotechnology Worries Are Overblown", 6 December 2001). His conclusion:
"Overall, the best defense against the abuse of nanotechnology by terrorists, rogue governments, or anyone else is a combination: reasonable regulations to foster responsibility and safety, governments willing to police abuses by terrorists or other governments, and a world order in which such acts are discouraged in general. Weíre quite a distance from these factors, but fortunately we have at least a couple of decades to get there. Itís time to start working."

Reynolds' comments about facing the potential dangers of nanotechnology without undue fear and loathing were also reported in a piece on the Wired website ("Don't Fear Science You Can't See"). Reynolds also had a similar discussion in Ad Astra, the magazine of the National Space Society ("Space, Nanotechnology and Techno-Worries", Jan/Feb 2001; available as an Adobe Acrobat PDF file).
"Rather than too much technology," he writes, "perhaps the problem is that we have too little. In the early days of nanotechnology, dangerous technologies may enjoy an advantage. Once the technology matures, it is likely that dangerous uses can be contained. The real danger of the sort of limits Joy proposes is that they may retard the development of constructive technologies, thus actually lengthening the window of vulnerability." Reynolds concludes that Bill Joy may have done a service by drawing greater attention to both the dangers and the opportunities of nanotechnology, but: "If the debate is to accomplish anything, however, it will have to proceed on a more informed level."

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