Pursuing nanotech via green, gray pathways

from the unintended-consequences dept.
In his regular column on technology and public policy for Tech Central Station ("Green or Gray?", 3 April 2002), University of Tennessee law professor and Foresight Director Glenn Reynolds asks whether we face a choice between a "biofuture" and a "machine future?" In other words, will things take a green path or a gray? He notes:

In truth, of course, there's a lot of overlap. You can, in principle, do most of the things that you could do with nanotechnology using advanced biotechnology, since biological processes are really just naturally evolved nanotechnology. And in the process of using and studying biological systems, you're sure to learn things that will have important applications for nanotechnology. (The reverse is probably also true — in engineering nanodevices, you're almost certain to learn things that will have biological applications).

Reynolds concludes by observing that:

"[I]t's the Greens who may provide much of the impetus for going gray. Over the past couple of decades, environmentalists who are opposed to genetic engineering have spent a lot of time demonizing biotechnology as 'tinkering with life.' . . . The problem is, having chosen to take that approach, they've committed intellectual disarmament where nanotechnology and other gray technologies are concerned. When you're building robots, you're not tinkering with life. . . . So although there may be little reason, on the merits, to choose between going green and going gray, the actions of environmentalists and anti-biotech activists may load the dice in favor of more mechanical approaches."

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