The Future of Nanotechnology

Mike Treder, executive director of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, has been invited to New Zealand and Australia to give a series of public talks this September. The New Zealand speaking tour is being organized by the Institution of Professional Engineers New Zealand (IPENZ). Between September 4 and September 14, 2006, he will address audiences in these New Zealand cities:

  • Dunedin
  • Timaru
  • Christchurch
  • Nelson
  • Wellington
  • New Plymouth
  • Wanganui
  • Palmerston North
  • Auckland

From Auckland, Mr. Treder will travel to Australia, where he will visit:

  • Melbourne – for a series of speaking engagements sponsored by Nanotechnology Victoria
  • Sydney – for a public lecture arranged by the University of Western Sydney Nanotechnology Network
  • Canberra – for talks sponsored by the Australian Research Council and by the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics

Based on the abstract below, Mr. Treder’s addresses will provide an explanation of nanotechnology and its significance to our future.

TALK ABSTRACT:

Nanotechnology is the name given to a broad field of science and applications. Molecular manufacturing involves the precise control of nanoscale machines to make structures, devices, more machines, and, ultimately, powerful products. It is not hyperbole to say that molecular manufacturing represents the next Industrial Revolution, a tool for radically transforming the world of the early 21st century. Whether that transformation is peaceful and beneficial or horrendously destructive is unknown. Although advanced generation nanotechnology carries great promise, unwise or malicious use could seriously threaten the human race.

The future of nanotechnology, once the stuff of science fiction, is rapidly approaching reality. We may be less than 15 years away from atomically precise, computer-controlled, inexpensive fabrication of complete products. The social, economic, and geopolitical implications of this technology are staggering. Rapid prototyping will allow product versions to be built and tested in hours. Nanoscale construction will provide direct access to biomedical function at the cellular level. Automated fabrication from the bottom up will allow even the most intricate structures, including sensor arrays, displays, and massive supercomputers, to be built at no extra cost. One of the many possibilities is a system that could watch everyone, everywhere, all the time. Such an infrastructure could store, analyze, and index every image, providing a godlike view to whoever controls the system.

Like electricity or computers, nanotechnology will bring greatly improved efficiency and productivity in many areas of human endeavor. In its mature form, it will have significant impact on almost all industries and all parts of society. Personal nanofactories may offer better built, longer lasting, cleaner, safer, and smarter products for the home, for communications, for medicine, for transportation, for agriculture, and for industry in general. However, as a general-purpose technology, nanotech will be dual-use, meaning that in addition to its civilian applications, it will have military uses as well — making far more powerful weapons and tools of surveillance. Thus, it represents not only wonderful benefits for humanity, but also grave risks.

Without effective limits, advanced nanotechnology could be extremely dangerous — but desirable to many people. In addition, personal nanofactories will be portable and easy to duplicate. This means it will be hard to control the use of the technology. However, overly restrictive policy will encourage uncontrolled proliferation and a rampant black market. The challenges we face are similar to many not yet solved — but with higher stakes — and today there are many more questions than answers. Because the transformational impacts of molecular manufacturing could occur quickly and with little warning, obtaining a thorough understanding of these issues is essential and urgent.

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