Nanodot readers invited to create/edit nano-scenarios

Nanodot readers invited to create/edit nano-scenarios

We’ve received an invitation to participate in the Center for Nanotechnology in Society’s project to build and critique nanotechnology scenarios.

Current topics to edit in the wiki, or you can add your own:
* Barless Prisons
* Bionic Eyes
* Living with a Brain Chip
* Disease Detector
* Automated Sewer Surveillance
* Engineered Tissues

Here’s the text sent to us by the Center:

The Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University (CNS-ASU) invites you to help design the future of nanotechnology.

READ, REVISE, RANT: Some say that Nanotechnology will revolutionize life as we know it, but what should we really expect from the future of nanotechnology? CNS developed 6 plausible product descriptions- called scenes- to provide some structure to discussions about nanotechnology. These fictional scenes have been evaluated by nanoscale scientists and engineers for technical plausibility- it is up to you to weigh social, economic, ethical, environmental and political plausibility—and desirability!!

Through an interactive website, the NanoFutures experiment invites citizens, scientists and engineers, social scientists, policy makers, and others interested in nanotechnology to assess the potentials and perils of nano-enabled futures. On this site you can:

READ the scenes: What if ultra fast sequencing technology is used to analyze the DNA in harvested waste water? What if you could predict disease before the onset of symptoms? What if your intelligence was enhanced with a brain chip? What if, instead of prisons, convicted criminals were injected with disabling drugs that were activated if the prisoners misbehaved?

REVISE the scenes in a wiki: the scenes are predominately technical- what about social values, religious viewpoints, economic feasibility, and ethical desirability? Edit the scenes to create richer portraits of the implications of the technology.

You can also write your own scenario about nanotechnologies’ development!

RANT about and discuss the scenes: What are your thoughts on the implications of nanotechnology? Are there some technologies that should not be developed? Who should control nanotechnology?

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One Comment

  1. Steve Moniz May 9, 2008 at 1:48 pm - Reply

    The nanotech scenarios discussion could benefit from a more formal treatment, in the style of Peter Schwartz/Global Business Network (GBN) scenarios. Wired magazine has a good synopsis at

    On the strategic scale, Foresight might develop a global scenario, very much like the one in the Wired article. For the details, ASU might develop a few GBN scenarios for their specific “projects”. The overall process of scenario generation is the same.

    First, you decide which TWO questions best express your uncertainties about the future, with respect to your project or closely related set of projects. The magazine article describes four broad categories of “drivers of future change”. These are given below, with a sample relevant question:
    Social: Will the public accept this?
    Economic: Will it be expensive for the average consumer?
    Political: Will the government control the technology tightly?
    Technological: Will the developments come rapidly or slowly?

    The last two questions are more appropriate for Foresight than ASU. Let us assume ASU feels that the first two are most relevant (for all but the Sewers project, probably). The next step is to map the scenario in PowerPoint. In the middle of the page, draw a horizontal line labeled “Unacceptable” on the left to “Acceptable” on the right. Bisect that with a vertical line labeled “Cheap” to “Expensive”. Then, draw four ovals in the corners. These will hold the names of the four future worlds at the extremes of these two conditions of uncertainty (cost and acceptability).

    Start a discussion about the environments in the corners. In a world of expensive nano and a hostile public, we might expect some rich people to defy opinion. We might label that oval the “Super Villain” world. (Try to keep the names cute – it helps the discussion.) With a hostile public, but cheap nano, we might get “Witch Hunt”. If nano is popular and cheap, we get “Cyborg Central”. If it’s popular but expensive only a few people will get super-powers, like the “X-Men” (though they aren’t that popular – this world’s name is still up for grabs). Flesh out the details of these worlds from discussions on the blog. Then publish a one or two page storyline for each world. This will create a common ground for discussion.

    When discussing the future, it’s always good to vary your assumptions. GBN-style scenarios are good for that. The process of building these scenarios is instructive in itself. For five of the six technologies on the ASU site we would actually start by relaxing the first assumption. “Are these the most important elements of uncertainty with respect to this project?”

    For Foresight, the project is nanotech itself (or just molecular manufacturing?). What are the two most important uncertainties? Opinions?

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