The whole issue of nanotech regulation has risen again with the publication of a new study by the Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars, which is exactly what the authors intended.
Any discussions surrounding possible risks tend to make the same excessive use of the conditional tense as any discussion of the benefits, which indicates how little we really know, and are based on the fundamental assumption that there is some kind of ‘nano’ industry to regulate of be fearful of. An example of how fragile this assumption is comes from Forbes Magazine, who name Apple’s iPod Nano as the top nanotech product of 2005.
Hold on a minute, are the folks at Woodrow Wilson, or more likely the popular press, suggesting that that the semiconductor industry be subject to some new laws? Forbes somewhat tenuous justification for Apples inclusion (“Inside the iPod Nano are memory chips from Samsung and Toshiba. Samsung, the biggest producer of NAND and DRAM flash memory chips in the world, uses semiconductor manufacturing methods with precision below 100 nanometres”) would surely include just about every product using flash memory, from digital cameras to memory sticks.
Forbes’ other top products, which include such world changing technologies as a baseball bat using a few picograms of carbon nanotubes, and chocolate chewing gum to name but two, are all subject to existing regulation, whether cosmetics, food or whoever regulates baseball bats.
Perhaps a better solution would be to regulate the amount of silly speculation about nanotech, perhaps by requiring pundits to be licensed. There is enough talk about how standards and quality control is needed on the world of nanomaterials, so why not in the press?
A new fund set up to allow people to invest in the â€˜nanotech industryâ€™ should plough its profits back into good causes. The UKâ€™s national lottery is a great example, as you canâ€™t stop people from gambling you may as well use the profits for something good.
Sending most of the nano pundits for a an introductory course on chemistry and physics would be a start. Imagine how the would of nanotech would be a saner place if someone at the Foresight Institute took more of an interest in chemistry rather than being able to reel off the plot lines and cast of every episode of Star Trek, or if some of the pressure groups protesting about nanotech actually understood what the difference between bio and nanotechnologies were?
It would make everyoneâ€™s job much easier, from regulators to politicians. Given the sheer avalanche of total rubbish over the last few years from nanobots curing cancer to how carbon nanotubes would make automobile tyres last so long that you would rent rather than purchase them, its no wonder the public is anxious and confused.