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Implications of nanotechnology

Implications of nanotechnology

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The impact of nanotechnology
Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Generally, nanotechnology deals with developing materials, devices, or other structures possessing at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometres...

extend from its medical
Nanomedicine
Nanomedicine is the medical application of nanotechnology. Nanomedicine ranges from the medical applications of nanomaterials, to nanoelectronic biosensors, and even possible future applications of molecular nanotechnology. Current problems for nanomedicine involve understanding the issues related...

, ethical, mental
Mind
The concept of mind is understood in many different ways by many different traditions, ranging from panpsychism and animism to traditional and organized religious views, as well as secular and materialist philosophies. Most agree that minds are constituted by conscious experience and intelligent...

, legal and environmental
Environmental science
Environmental science is an interdisciplinary academic field that integrates physical and biological sciences, to the study of the environment, and the solution of environmental problems...

 applications, to fields such as engineering, biology, chemistry, computing, materials science, military applications, and communications.

Major benefits of nanotechnology include improved manufacturing methods, water purification systems, energy systems, physical enhancement
Human enhancement
Human enhancement refers to any attempt to temporarily or permanently overcome the current limitations of the human body through natural or artificial means...

, nanomedicine
Nanomedicine
Nanomedicine is the medical application of nanotechnology. Nanomedicine ranges from the medical applications of nanomaterials, to nanoelectronic biosensors, and even possible future applications of molecular nanotechnology. Current problems for nanomedicine involve understanding the issues related...

, better food production methods and nutrition and large scale infrastructure auto-fabrication. Nanotechnology's reduced size may allow for automation of tasks which were previously inaccessible due to physical restrictions, which in turn may reduce labor, land, or maintenance requirements placed on humans.

Potential risks include environmental, health, and safety issues; transitional effects such as displacement of traditional industries as the products of nanotechnology become dominant; military applications such as biological warfare
Biological warfare
Biological warfare is the use of biological toxins or infectious agents such as bacteria, viruses, and fungi with intent to kill or incapacitate humans, animals or plants as an act of war...

 and implants for soldiers; and surveillance through nano-sensors, which are of concern to privacy rights advocates. These may be particularly important if potential negative effects of nanoparticles are overlooked before they are released.

Whether nanotechnology
Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Generally, nanotechnology deals with developing materials, devices, or other structures possessing at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometres...

 merits special government regulation
Regulation
Regulation is administrative legislation that constitutes or constrains rights and allocates responsibilities. It can be distinguished from primary legislation on the one hand and judge-made law on the other...

 is a controversial issue. Regulatory bodies such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency
United States Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress...

 and the Health & Consumer Protection Directorate of the European Commission have started dealing with the potential risks of nanoparticles. The organic food sector has been the first to act with the regulated exclusion of engineered nanoparticles from certified organic produce, firstly in Australia
Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

 and the UK, and more recently in Canada
Canada
Canada is a North American country consisting of ten provinces and three territories. Located in the northern part of the continent, it extends from the Atlantic Ocean in the east to the Pacific Ocean in the west, and northward into the Arctic Ocean...

, as well as for all food certified to Demeter International
Demeter International
Demeter International is the largest certification organization for biodynamic agriculture, and is one of three predominant organic certifiers. Its name is a reference to Demeter, the Greek goddess of grain and fertility. Demeter Biodynamic Certification is used in over 50 countries to verify that...

 standards

Projected benefits



  • Environmental issues - the effects of nanomaterials on the environment
  • Societal issues - the effects that the availability of nanotechnological devices will have on politics and human interaction
  • "Grey goo
    Grey goo
    Grey goo is a hypothetical end-of-the-world scenario involving molecular nanotechnology in which out-of-control self-replicating robots consume all matter on Earth while building more of themselves, a scenario known as ecophagy .Self-replicating machines of the macroscopic variety were originally...

    "
    - the specific risks associated with the speculative vision of molecular nanotechnology

Health and safety impact from nanoparticles


The presence of nanomaterials (materials that contain nanoparticle
Nanoparticle
In nanotechnology, a particle is defined as a small object that behaves as a whole unit in terms of its transport and properties. Particles are further classified according to size : in terms of diameter, coarse particles cover a range between 10,000 and 2,500 nanometers. Fine particles are sized...

s) is not in itself a threat. It is only certain aspects that can make them risky, in particular their mobility and their increased reactivity. Only if certain properties of certain nanoparticles were harmful to living beings or the environment would we be faced with a genuine hazard. In this case it can be called nanopollution.

In addressing the health and environmental impact of nanomaterials we need to differentiate between two types of nanostructures: (1) Nanocomposites, nanostructured surfaces and nanocomponents (electronic, optical, sensors etc.), where nanoscale particles are incorporated into a substance, material or device (“fixed” nano-particles); and (2) “free” nanoparticles, where at some stage in production or use individual nanoparticles of a substance are present. These free nanoparticles could be nanoscale species of elements, or simple compounds, but also complex compounds where for instance a nanoparticle of a particular element is coated with another substance (“coated” nanoparticle or “core-shell” nanoparticle).

There seems to be consensus that, although one should be aware of materials containing fixed nanoparticles, the immediate concern is with free nanoparticles.

Nanoparticles are very different from their everyday counterparts, so their adverse effects cannot be derived from the known toxicity of the macro-sized material. This poses significant issues for addressing the health and environmental impact of free nanoparticles.

To complicate things further, in talking about nanoparticles it is important that a powder or liquid containing nanoparticles almost never be monodisperse http://www.chemicool.com/definition/monodisperse.html, but contain instead a range of particle sizes. This complicates the experimental analysis as larger nanoparticles might have different properties from smaller ones. Also, nanoparticles show a tendency to aggregate, and such aggregates often behave differently from individual nanoparticles.

The lethal dose over six months for lab rats, of different kinds of nanoparticles are often characterized by a Skov Kjaer index, named after the scientist Kasper Skov Kjaer.

The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health
The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health is the United States’ federal agency responsible for conducting research and making recommendations for the prevention of work-related injury and illness. NIOSH is part of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention within the U.S...

 is conducting research on how nanoparticles interact with the body’s systems and how workers might be exposed to nano-sized particles in the manufacturing or industrial use of nanomaterials. NIOSH currently offers interim guidelines for working with nanomaterials consistent with the best scientific knowledge.

In "The Consumer Product Safety Commission and Nanotechnology," E. Marla Felcher suggests that the Consumer Product Safety Commission, which is charged with protecting the public against unreasonable risks of injury or death associated with consumer products, is ill-equipped to oversee the safety of complex, high-tech products made using nanotechnology.

Longer-term concerns center on the impact that new technologies will have for society at large, and whether these could possibly lead to either a post-scarcity
Post scarcity
Post scarcity is a hypothetical form of economy or society, in which things such as goods, services and information are free, or practically free...

 economy, or alternatively exacerbate the wealth gap between developed and developing nations. The effects of nanotechnology on the society as a whole, on human health and the environment, on trade, on security, on food systems and even on the definition of "human", have not been characterized or politicized.

Health issues


The health impact of nanotechnology
Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Generally, nanotechnology deals with developing materials, devices, or other structures possessing at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometres...

 are the possible effects that the use of nanotechnological materials and devices will have on human health. As nanotechnology is an emerging field, there is great debate regarding to what extent nanotechnology will benefit or pose risks for human health. Nanotechnology's health impact can be split into two aspects: the potential for nanotechnological innovations to have medical applications
Nanomedicine
Nanomedicine is the medical application of nanotechnology. Nanomedicine ranges from the medical applications of nanomaterials, to nanoelectronic biosensors, and even possible future applications of molecular nanotechnology. Current problems for nanomedicine involve understanding the issues related...

 to cure disease, and the potential health hazards posed by exposure to nanomaterials
Nanomaterials
Nanomaterials is a field that takes a materials science-based approach to nanotechnology. It studies materials with morphological features on the nanoscale, and especially those that have special properties stemming from their nanoscale dimensions...

.

Nanotoxicology
Nanotoxicology
Nanotoxicology is the study of the toxicity of nanomaterials. Because of quantum size effects and large surface area to volume ratio, nanomaterials have unique properties compared with their larger counterparts....

 is the field which studies potential health risks of nanomaterials. The extremely small size of nanomaterials means that they are much more readily taken up by the human body than larger sized particles. How these nanoparticles behave inside the organism is one of the big issues that needs to be resolved. The behavior of nanoparticles is a function of their size, shape and surface reactivity with the surrounding tissue. Apart from what happens if non-degradable or slowly degradable nanoparticles accumulate in organs, another concern is their potential interaction with biological processes inside the body: because of their large surface, nanoparticles on exposure to tissue and fluids will immediately adsorb
Adsorption
Adsorption is the adhesion of atoms, ions, biomolecules or molecules of gas, liquid, or dissolved solids to a surface. This process creates a film of the adsorbate on the surface of the adsorbent. It differs from absorption, in which a fluid permeates or is dissolved by a liquid or solid...

 onto their surface some of the macromolecules they encounter. The large number of variables influencing toxicity means that it is difficult to generalise about health risks associated with exposure to nanomaterials – each new nanomaterial must be assessed individually and all material properties must be taken into account. Health and environmental issues combine in the workplace of companies engaged in producing or using nanomaterials and in the laboratories engaged in nanoscience and nanotechnology research. It is safe to say that current workplace exposure standards for dusts cannot be applied directly to nanoparticle dusts.

Nanomedicine
Nanomedicine
Nanomedicine is the medical application of nanotechnology. Nanomedicine ranges from the medical applications of nanomaterials, to nanoelectronic biosensors, and even possible future applications of molecular nanotechnology. Current problems for nanomedicine involve understanding the issues related...

 is the medical
Medicine
Medicine is the science and art of healing. It encompasses a variety of health care practices evolved to maintain and restore health by the prevention and treatment of illness....

 application of nanotechnology
Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Generally, nanotechnology deals with developing materials, devices, or other structures possessing at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometres...

. The approaches to nanomedicine range from the medical use of nanomaterials
Nanomaterials
Nanomaterials is a field that takes a materials science-based approach to nanotechnology. It studies materials with morphological features on the nanoscale, and especially those that have special properties stemming from their nanoscale dimensions...

, to nanoelectronic
Nanoelectronics
Nanoelectronics refer to the use of nanotechnology on electronic components, especially transistors. Although the term nanotechnology is generally defined as utilizing technology less than 100 nm in size, nanoelectronics often refer to transistor devices that are so small that inter-atomic...

 biosensors, and even possible future applications of molecular nanotechnology
Molecular nanotechnology
Molecular nanotechnology is a technology based on the ability to build structures to complex, atomic specifications by means of mechanosynthesis. This is distinct from nanoscale materials...

. Nanomedicine seeks to deliver a valuable set of research tools and clinically helpful devices in the near future. The National Nanotechnology Initiative
National Nanotechnology Initiative
The National Nanotechnology Initiative is a United States federal nanoscale science, engineering, and technology research and development program...

 expects new commercial applications in the pharmaceutical industry that may include advanced drug delivery systems, new therapies, and in vivo
In vivo
In vivo is experimentation using a whole, living organism as opposed to a partial or dead organism, or an in vitro controlled environment. Animal testing and clinical trials are two forms of in vivo research...

 imaging. Neuro-electronic interfaces and other nanoelectronics
Nanoelectronics
Nanoelectronics refer to the use of nanotechnology on electronic components, especially transistors. Although the term nanotechnology is generally defined as utilizing technology less than 100 nm in size, nanoelectronics often refer to transistor devices that are so small that inter-atomic...

-based sensors are another active goal of research. Further down the line, the speculative field of molecular nanotechnology
Molecular nanotechnology
Molecular nanotechnology is a technology based on the ability to build structures to complex, atomic specifications by means of mechanosynthesis. This is distinct from nanoscale materials...

 believes that cell repair machines
Nanorobotics
Nanorobotics is the emerging technology field of creating machines or robots whose components are at or close to the scale of a nanometer . More specifically, nanorobotics refers to the nanotechnology engineering discipline of designing and building nanorobots, with devices ranging in size from...

 could revolutionize medicine and the medical field.

Environmental issues



Nanopollution is a generic name for all waste generated by nanodevices or during the nanomaterials manufacturing process. This kind of waste may be very dangerous because of its size. It can float in the air and might easily penetrate animal and plant cells causing unknown effects. Most human-made nanoparticle
Nanoparticle
In nanotechnology, a particle is defined as a small object that behaves as a whole unit in terms of its transport and properties. Particles are further classified according to size : in terms of diameter, coarse particles cover a range between 10,000 and 2,500 nanometers. Fine particles are sized...

s do not appear in nature, so living organisms may not have appropriate means to deal with nanowaste.

To properly assess the health hazards of engineered nanoparticles the whole life cycle of these particles needs to be evaluated, including their fabrication, storage and distribution, application and potential abuse, and disposal. The impact on humans or the environment may vary at different stages of the life cycle. Environmental assessment is justified as nanoparticles present novel (new) environmental impacts. Scrinis raises concerns about nano-pollution, and argues that it is not currently possible to “precisely predict or control the ecological impacts of the release of these nano-products into the environment.”

On the other hand, some possible future applications of nanotechnology have the potential to benefit the environment. Nanofiltration
Nanofiltration
Nanofiltration is a relatively recent membrane filtration process used most often with low total dissolved solids water such as surface water and fresh groundwater, with the purpose of softening and removal of disinfection by-product precursors such as natural organic matter and synthetic organic...

, based on the use of membranes with extremely small pores smaller than 10 nm (perhaps composed of nanotubes
Nanotube membrane
Nanotube membrane is either a single, open-ended nanotube or a film composed of open-ended nanotubes that are oriented perpendicularly to the surface of an impermeable film matrix like the cells of a honeycomb. 'Impermeable' is essential here to distinguish nanotube membrane with traditional, well...

) are suitable for a mechanical filtration for the removal of ions or the separation of different fluids. Furthermore, magnetic nanoparticles offer an effective and reliable method to remove heavy metal contaminants from waste water. Using nanoscale particles increases the efficiency to absorb the contaminants and is comparatively inexpensive compared to traditional precipitation and filtration methods.

Furthermore, nanotechnology could potentially have a great impact on clean energy production. Research is underway to use nanomaterials for purposes including more efficient solar cell
Solar cell
A solar cell is a solid state electrical device that converts the energy of light directly into electricity by the photovoltaic effect....

s, practical fuel cell
Fuel cell
A fuel cell is a device that converts the chemical energy from a fuel into electricity through a chemical reaction with oxygen or another oxidizing agent. Hydrogen is the most common fuel, but hydrocarbons such as natural gas and alcohols like methanol are sometimes used...

s, and environmentally friendly batteries
Nanobatteries
Nanobatteries are fabricated batteries employing technology at the nanoscale, a scale of minuscule particles that measure less than 100 nanometers or 100x10−9 meters...

.

A need for regulation?


Significant debate exists relating to the question of whether nanotechnology
Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Generally, nanotechnology deals with developing materials, devices, or other structures possessing at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometres...

 or nanotechnology-based products merit special government regulation
Regulation
Regulation is administrative legislation that constitutes or constrains rights and allocates responsibilities. It can be distinguished from primary legislation on the one hand and judge-made law on the other...

. This debate is related to the circumstances in which it is necessary and appropriate to assess new substances prior to their release into the market, community and environment.

Regulatory bodies such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency
United States Environmental Protection Agency
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress...

 and the Food and Drug Administration
Food and Drug Administration
The Food and Drug Administration is an agency of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, one of the United States federal executive departments...

 in the U.S. or the Health & Consumer Protection Directorate of the European Commission have started dealing with the potential risks posed by nanoparticles. So far, neither engineered nanoparticles nor the products and materials that contain them are subject to any special regulation regarding production, handling or labelling. The Material Safety Data Sheet
Material safety data sheet
A Material Safety Data Sheet is a form with data regarding the properties of a particular substance....

 that must be issued for some materials often does not differentiate between bulk and nanoscale size of the material in question and even when it does these MSDS are advisory only.

Limited nanotechnology labeling and regulation may exacerbate potential human and environmental health and safety issues associated with nanotechnology. It has been argued that the development of comprehensive regulation of nanotechnology will be vital to ensure that the potential risks associated with the research and commercial application of nanotechnology do not overshadow its potential benefits. Regulation may also be required to meet community expectations about responsible development of nanotechnology, as well as ensuring that public interests are included in shaping the development of nanotechnology.

California


On December 21, 2010, the Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC), within the California Environmental Protection Agency, initiated the second Chemical Information Call-in on six nanomaterials: nano cerium oxide, nano silver, nano titanium dioxide, nano zero valent iron, nano zinc oxide, and quantum dots. DTSC sent a formal information request letter to forty manufacturers who produce or import the six nanomaterials in California, or who may export them into the State. The Chemical Information Call-in is meant to identify information gaps of these six nanomaterials and to develop further knowledge of their analytical test methods, fate and transport in the environment, and other relevant information under California Health and Safety Code, Chapter 699, sections 57018-57020. Assembly Bill (AB) 289 (2006) places the responsibility to provide this information to the Department on those who manufacture or import the chemicals. DTSC completed the carbon nanotube Information Call-in in June 2010.

With this Information Call-in, DTSC has taken a leadership position in developing a framework for regulation and data collection of nanomaterials in California. DTSC partners with University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), Santa Barbara (UCSB), and Riverside (UCR), University of Southern California (USC), Stanford University, Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEIN), and The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) on safe nanomaterial handling practices.

DTSC is indicating interest in expanding the Chemical Information Call-in to members of the brominated flame retardants, members of the methyl siloxanes, ocean plastics, nanoclay, and other emerging chemicals.

Interested individuals are encouraged to visit their website for latest information at http://www.dtsc.ca.gov/PollutionPrevention/Chemical_Call_In.cfm.

Societal impact


Beyond the toxicity risks to human health and the environment which are associated with first-generation nanomaterials, nanotechnology has broader societal impact and poses broader social challenges. Social scientists have suggested that nanotechnology's social issues should be understood and assessed not simply as "downstream" risks or impacts. Rather, the challenges should be factored into "upstream" research and decision making in order to ensure technology development that meets social objectives

Many social scientists and organizations in civil society suggest that technology assessment
Technology assessment
Technology assessment Technology assessment Technology assessment (TA, German Tenteractive, and communicative process that aims to contribute to the formation of public and political opinion on societal aspects of science and technology.- General description :...

 and governance should also involve public participation

Societal risks from the use of nanotechnology have also been raised. On the instrumental level, these include the possibility of military applications of nanotechnology (for instance, as in implants and other means for soldier enhancement like those being developed at the Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies at MIT http://web.mit.edu/ISN/) as well as enhanced surveillance capabilities through nano-sensors.

The last few years has seen a gold rush to claim patents at the nanoscale. Over 800 nano-related patents were granted in 2003, and the numbers are increasing year to year. Corporations are already taking out broad-ranging patents on nanoscale discoveries and inventions. For example, two corporations, NEC
NEC
, a Japanese multinational IT company, has its headquarters in Minato, Tokyo, Japan. NEC, part of the Sumitomo Group, provides information technology and network solutions to business enterprises, communications services providers and government....

 and IBM
IBM
International Business Machines Corporation or IBM is an American multinational technology and consulting corporation headquartered in Armonk, New York, United States. IBM manufactures and sells computer hardware and software, and it offers infrastructure, hosting and consulting services in areas...

, hold the basic patents on carbon nanotube
Carbon nanotube
Carbon nanotubes are allotropes of carbon with a cylindrical nanostructure. Nanotubes have been constructed with length-to-diameter ratio of up to 132,000,000:1, significantly larger than for any other material...

s, one of the current cornerstones of nanotechnology. Carbon nanotubes have a wide range of uses, and look set to become crucial to several industries from electronics and computers, to strengthened materials to drug delivery and diagnostics. Carbon nanotubes are poised to become a major traded commodity with the potential to replace major conventional raw materials. However, as their use expands, anyone seeking to (legally) manufacture or sell carbon nanotubes, no matter what the application, must first buy a license from NEC or IBM. http://www.azonano.com/details.asp?ArticleID=1383 http://www.ipr-nec.com/system/en/infolistcat/120/1/0/

Potential benefits and risks for developing countries


Nanotechnologies may provide new solutions for the millions of people in developing countries who lack access to basic services, such as safe water, reliable energy, health care, and education. The United Nations
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 has set Millennium Development Goals
Millennium Development Goals
The Millennium Development Goals are eight international development goals that all 193 United Nations member states and at least 23 international organizations have agreed to achieve by the year 2015...

 for meeting these needs. The 2004 UN
United Nations
The United Nations is an international organization whose stated aims are facilitating cooperation in international law, international security, economic development, social progress, human rights, and achievement of world peace...

 Task Force on Science, Technology and Innovation noted that some of the advantages of nanotechnology include production using little labor, land, or maintenance, high productivity, low cost, and modest requirements for materials and energy.

Potential opportunities of nanotechnologies to help address critical international development priorities include improved water purification
Water purification
Water purification is the process of removing undesirable chemicals, materials, and biological contaminants from contaminated water. The goal is to produce water fit for a specific purpose...

 systems, energy systems
Energy applications of nanotechnology
Over the past few decades, the fields of science and engineering have been seeking to develop new and improved types of energy technologies that have the capability of improving life all over the world. In order to make the next leap forward from the current generation of technology, scientists...

, medicine and pharmaceuticals, food production and nutrition, and information and communications technologies
Information technology
Information technology is the acquisition, processing, storage and dissemination of vocal, pictorial, textual and numerical information by a microelectronics-based combination of computing and telecommunications...

. Nanotechnologies are already incorporated in products that are on the market. Other nanotechnologies are still in the research phase, while others are concepts that are years or decades away from development.

Protection of the environment, human health and worker safety in developing countries often suffers from a combination of factors that can include but are not limited to lack of robust environmental, human health, and worker safety regulations; poorly or unenforced regulation which is linked to a lack of physical (e.g., equipment) and human capacity (i.e., properly trained regulatory staff). Often, these nations require assistance, particularly financial assistance, to develop the scientific and institutional capacity to adequately assess and manage risks, including the necessary infrastructure such as laboratories and technology for detection.

However, concerns are frequently raised that the claimed benefits of nanotechnology will not be evenly distributed, and that any benefits (including technical and/or economic) associated with nanotechnology will only reach affluent nations. The majority of nanotechnology research and development - and patents for nanomaterials and products - is concentrated in developed countries (including the United States, Japan, Germany, Canada and France). In addition, most patents related to nanotechnology are concentrated amongst few multinational corporations, including IBM, Micron Technologies, Advanced Micro Devices and Intel. This has led to fears that it will be unlikely that developing countries will have access to the infrastructure, funding and human resources required to support nanotechnology research and development, and that this is likely to exacerbate such inequalities.

Producers in developing countries could also be disadvantaged by the replacement of natural products (including rubber, cotton, coffee and tea) by developments in nanotechnology. These natural products are important export crops for developing countries, and many farmers' livelihoods depend on them. It has been argued that their substitution with industrial nano-products could negatively impact the economies of developing countries, that have traditionally relied on these export crops.

Effects on laborers


Ray Kurzweil has speculated in The Singularity is Near that people who work in unskilled labor jobs for a livelihood
Laborer
A Laborer or labourer - see variation in english spelling - is one of the construction trades, traditionally considered unskilled manual labor, as opposed to skilled labor. In the division of labor, laborers have all blasting, hand tools, power tools, air tools, and small heavy equipment, and act...

 may become the first human workers to be displaced by the constant use of nanotechnology in the workplace
Employment
Employment is a contract between two parties, one being the employer and the other being the employee. An employee may be defined as:- Employee :...

, noting that layoffs often affect the jobs based around the lowest technology level before attacking jobs with the highest technology level possible. It has been noted that every major economic era has stimulated a global revolution both in the kinds of jobs that are available to people and the kind of training they need to achieve these jobs, and there is concern that the world's educational systems have lagged behind in preparing students for the "Nanotech Age".

It has also been speculated that nanotechnology may give rise to nanofactories
Molecular assembler
A molecular assembler, as defined by K. Eric Drexler, is a "proposed device able to guide chemical reactions by positioning reactive molecules with atomic precision". Some biological molecules such as ribosomes fit this definition. This is because they receive instructions from messenger RNA and...

 which may have superior capabilities to conventional factories
Factory
A factory or manufacturing plant is an industrial building where laborers manufacture goods or supervise machines processing one product into another. Most modern factories have large warehouses or warehouse-like facilities that contain heavy equipment used for assembly line production...

 due to their small carbon and physical footprint on the global and regional environment. The miniaturization
Miniaturization
Miniaturization is the creation of ever-smaller scales for mechanical, optical, and electronic products and devices...

 and transformation of the multi-acre conventional factory into the nanofactory may not interfere with their ability to deliver a high quality product; the product may be of even greater quality due to the lack of human errors in the production stages. Nanofactory systems may use precise atomic precisioning and contribute to making superior quality products that the "bulk
Bulk material handling
Bulk material handling is an engineering field that is centered around the design of equipment used for the handling of dry materials such as ores, coal, cereals, wood chips, sand, gravel and stone in loose bulk form...

 chemistry
Chemistry
Chemistry is the science of matter, especially its chemical reactions, but also its composition, structure and properties. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds....

" method used in 20th century and early 21st currently cannot produce. These advances might shift the computerized workforce in an even more complex direction, requiring skills in genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics.

Impact of molecular nanotechnology



Molecular nanotechnology
Molecular nanotechnology
Molecular nanotechnology is a technology based on the ability to build structures to complex, atomic specifications by means of mechanosynthesis. This is distinct from nanoscale materials...

 is a speculative subfield of nanotechnology regarding the possibility of engineering molecular assembler
Molecular assembler
A molecular assembler, as defined by K. Eric Drexler, is a "proposed device able to guide chemical reactions by positioning reactive molecules with atomic precision". Some biological molecules such as ribosomes fit this definition. This is because they receive instructions from messenger RNA and...

s, machines which could re-order matter at a molecular or atomic scale. Regarding the risks from molecular manufacturing, an often cited worst-case scenario
Scenario planning
Scenario planning, also called scenario thinking or scenario analysis, is a strategic planning method that some organizations use to make flexible long-term plans. It is in large part an adaptation and generalization of classic methods used by military intelligence.The original method was that a...

 is "grey goo
Grey goo
Grey goo is a hypothetical end-of-the-world scenario involving molecular nanotechnology in which out-of-control self-replicating robots consume all matter on Earth while building more of themselves, a scenario known as ecophagy .Self-replicating machines of the macroscopic variety were originally...

", a hypothetical substance into which the surface of the earth might be transformed by self-replicating nanobots running amok. This concept has been analyzed by Freitas in "Some Limits to Global Ecophagy by Biovorous Nanoreplicators, with Public Policy Recommendations" http://www.foresight.org/nano/Ecophagy.html With the advent of nan-biotech, a different scenario called green goo has been forwarded. Here, the malignant substance is not nanobots but rather self-replicating organism
Organism
In biology, an organism is any contiguous living system . In at least some form, all organisms are capable of response to stimuli, reproduction, growth and development, and maintenance of homoeostasis as a stable whole.An organism may either be unicellular or, as in the case of humans, comprise...

s engineered through nanotechnology.

According to the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology
Center for Responsible Nanotechnology
Center for Responsible Nanotechnology is a non-profit research and advocacy organization with a focus on molecular manufacturing and its possible effects, both positive and negative...

:
Molecular manufacturing allows the cheap creation of incredibly powerful devices and products. How many of these products will we want? What environmental damage will they do? The range of possible damage is vast, from personal low-flying supersonic aircraft injuring large numbers of animals to collection of solar energy on a sufficiently large scale to modify the planet's albedo and directly affect the environment. Stronger materials will allow the creation of much larger machines, capable of excavating or otherwise destroying large areas of the planet at a greatly accelerated pace.


It is too early to tell whether there will be economic incentive to do this. However, given the large number of activities and purposes that would damage the environment if taken to extremes, and the ease of taking them to extremes with molecular manufacturing, it seems likely that this problem is worth worrying about. Some forms of damage can result from an aggregate of individual actions, each almost harmless by itself. Such damage is quite hard to prevent by persuasion, and laws frequently don't work either; centralized restriction on the technology itself may be a necessary part of the solution.

Finally, the extreme compactness of nanomanufactured machinery will tempt the use of very small products, which can easily turn into nano-litter that will be hard to clean up and may cause health problems. The site list numerous other risks and benefits.

Studies on the impact of nanotechnology


  • The Royal Society's nanotech report http://www.nanotec.org.uk/ was inspired by Prince Charles' concerns about nanotechnology
    Nanotechnology
    Nanotechnology is the study of manipulating matter on an atomic and molecular scale. Generally, nanotechnology deals with developing materials, devices, or other structures possessing at least one dimension sized from 1 to 100 nanometres...

    , including molecular manufacturing. However, the report spent almost no time on molecular manufacturing. (See Center for Responsible Nanotechnology criticism of omission of molecular manufacturing.) In fact, the word "Drexler
    K. Eric Drexler
    Dr. Kim Eric Drexler is an American engineer best known for popularizing the potential of molecular nanotechnology , from the 1970s and 1980s.His 1991 doctoral thesis at MIT was revised and published as...

    " appears only once in the body of the report (in passing), and "molecular manufacturing" or "molecular nanotechnology
    Molecular nanotechnology
    Molecular nanotechnology is a technology based on the ability to build structures to complex, atomic specifications by means of mechanosynthesis. This is distinct from nanoscale materials...

    " not at all. The report covers various risks of nanoscale technologies, such as nanoparticle toxicology. It also provides a useful overview of several nanoscale fields. (Someone more interested in nanoscale technologies should expand this description.) The report contains an annex (appendix) on grey goo
    Grey goo
    Grey goo is a hypothetical end-of-the-world scenario involving molecular nanotechnology in which out-of-control self-replicating robots consume all matter on Earth while building more of themselves, a scenario known as ecophagy .Self-replicating machines of the macroscopic variety were originally...

    , which cites a weaker variation of Richard Smalley
    Richard Smalley
    Richard Errett Smalley was the Gene and Norman Hackerman Professor of Chemistry and a Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Rice University, in Houston, Texas...

    's contested argument against molecular manufacturing. It concludes that there is no evidence that autonomous, self replicating nanomachines will be developed in the foreseeable future, and suggests that regulators should be more concerned with issues of nanoparticle toxicology.

  • In 2008, the city of Cambridge, MA in the United States
    United States
    The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

     considered whether to institute nanotechnology regulation similar to that in Berkeley, CA, the latter being the only city in the United States to currently regulate nanotechnology. The Cambridge Nanomaterials
    Nanomaterials
    Nanomaterials is a field that takes a materials science-based approach to nanotechnology. It studies materials with morphological features on the nanoscale, and especially those that have special properties stemming from their nanoscale dimensions...

     Advisory Committee's final report of July 2008 recommended against such regulations, recommending instead other steps to facilitate information-gathering about potential effects of nanomaterials.

  • In July 2003 the United States Environmental Protection Agency
    United States Environmental Protection Agency
    The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is an agency of the federal government of the United States charged with protecting human health and the environment, by writing and enforcing regulations based on laws passed by Congress...

     http://www.epa.gov issued the first research solicitation in the area of nanotechnology impact, "Exploratory Research to Anticipate Future Environmental Issues - Part 2: Impacts of Manufactured Nanomaterials
    Nanomaterials
    Nanomaterials is a field that takes a materials science-based approach to nanotechnology. It studies materials with morphological features on the nanoscale, and especially those that have special properties stemming from their nanoscale dimensions...

     on Human Health and the Environment." http://es.epa.gov/ncer/rfa/archive/grants/03/current/2003_nano.html In September 2004 US EPA partnered with the National Science Foundation
    National Science Foundation
    The National Science Foundation is a United States government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. Its medical counterpart is the National Institutes of Health...

     and the Centers for Disease Control to issue a second research solicitation, "Nanotechnology Research Grants Investigating Environmental and Human Health Effects of Manufactured Nanomaterials: A Joint Research Solicitation - EPA, NSF, NIOSH."

  • In August 2005, a task force
    Task force
    A task force is a unit or formation established to work on a single defined task or activity. Originally introduced by the United States Navy, the term has now caught on for general usage and is a standard part of NATO terminology...

     consisting of 50+ international experts from various fields was organized by the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology
    Center for Responsible Nanotechnology
    Center for Responsible Nanotechnology is a non-profit research and advocacy organization with a focus on molecular manufacturing and its possible effects, both positive and negative...

     to study the societal impact of molecular nanotechnology
    Molecular nanotechnology
    Molecular nanotechnology is a technology based on the ability to build structures to complex, atomic specifications by means of mechanosynthesis. This is distinct from nanoscale materials...

     http://www.crnano.org/CTF.htm.

  • In October 2005, the National Science Foundation
    National Science Foundation
    The National Science Foundation is a United States government agency that supports fundamental research and education in all the non-medical fields of science and engineering. Its medical counterpart is the National Institutes of Health...

     announced that it would fund two national centers to research the potential societal impact of nanotechnology. Located at the University of California, Santa Barbara http://www.cns.ucsb.edu and Arizona State University http://www.cns,asu.edu, researchers at these two centers are exploring a wide range of issues including nanotechnology's historical context, technology assessment, innovation and globalization issues, and societal perceptions of risk.

  • Determining a set of pathways for the development of molecular nanotechnology is now an objective of a broadly based technology roadmap project http://physorg.com/news4656.html led by Battelle
    Battelle Memorial Institute
    Battelle Memorial Institute is a private nonprofit applied science and technology development company headquartered in Columbus, Ohio. Battelle is a charitable trust organized as a nonprofit corporation under the laws of the State of Ohio and is exempt from taxation under Section 501 of the...

     (the manager of several U.S. National Laboratories) and the Foresight Institute
    Foresight Institute
    The Foresight Institute is a Palo Alto, California-based nonprofit organization for promoting transformative technologies. They sponsor conferences on molecular nanotechnology, publish reports, and produce a newsletter....

    . That roadmap should be completed by early 2007.

  • In October 2006, the International Council on Nanotechnology (ICON) based at Rice University
    Rice University
    William Marsh Rice University, commonly referred to as Rice University or Rice, is a private research university located on a heavily wooded campus in Houston, Texas, United States...

     published a survey of nanomaterial handling practices being used by industrial and academic workplaces on four continents. The survey revealed that more information is needed to protect against the potential occupational risks associated with handling free nanoparticle
    Nanoparticle
    In nanotechnology, a particle is defined as a small object that behaves as a whole unit in terms of its transport and properties. Particles are further classified according to size : in terms of diameter, coarse particles cover a range between 10,000 and 2,500 nanometers. Fine particles are sized...

    s. ICON also maintains the Virtual Journal of Nanotechnology Environment, Health & Safety (VJ-NanoEHS) which is a compilation of citations to peer-reviewed studies on risk issues.

  • In 2007 Springer SBM started the journal NanoEthics Ethics for Technologies that Converge at the Nanoscale. This journal is a multidisciplinary forum for exploration of issues presented by converging technology applications. While the central focus of the journal is on the philosophically and scientifically rigorous examination of the ethical and societal considerations and the public and policy concerns inherent in nanotechnology research and development.
  • Nanotechnologies Summary of the assessment on the safety of nanotechnologies by DG-SANCO's Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks
    Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks
    The Scientific Committee on Emerging and Newly Identified Health Risks is one of the independent scientific committees managed by the Directorate-General for Health and Consumer Protection of the European Commission, which provide scientific advice to the Commission on issues related to consumer...

  • Center for Nanotechnology in Society @ Arizona State University is a major NSF-funded research center focused on analyses of the societal impact of nanotechnology.

Further reading


External links