Nanotechnology risks & benefits, near- and long-term, debated at IRGC

The International Risk Governance Council held a meeting on nanotechnology in Zurich on July 6-7, 2006, to review and critique their white paper on Nanotechnology Risk Governance (PDF).

Normally such events are just about the risks of near-term nanomaterials, but not this one. The IRGC is looking at all sides: both near- and long-term nanotechnology (which they call Frame 1 and Frame 2), and both kinds of risks: the risks of negative outcomes, and the risks of missing out on positive outcomes.

Here’s the program (PDF) for the meeting and here are links to the speakers’ slides in PDF.

I was appointed as spokesperson for the NGO breakout addressing Frame 2 (long-term) issues. My presentation is here. The first half is a summary/orientation on the topic (long-term nanotech) critiquing the IRGC report, and the second half is the breakout group’s results. Perhaps surprisingly, given the diversity of NGOs present, we were actually able to make a number of unanimous recommendations.

As part of the summary/orientation, I wrote: “Missing economic benefits is a huge social risk, especially for global south. Frame 2 may be best path to sustainable development, given reduction of markets for their current products already happening in Frame 1”. That’s policy-speak for “Poor countries are going to need long-term nanotechnology in order to advance.”

In terms of actual long-term risks, my main point was that the IRGC white paper has far too much on human enhancement issues (called human development issues in the report) and not enough on security risks. All this talk about human enhancement is great fun but is greatly overemphasized as a risk, not just in the IRGC report, but elsewhere as well. —Christine

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