The Future Is … A Nice Cup of Tea?

A new study by the Nanotechnology Industry Association (UK) titled a “Forecast of Emerging Technologies (Nanotechnologies)” has just been released, which concludes that, erm, well we are not quite sure, although it does contain some of the longest sentences we have seen for a while.

Modern Art?The concluding diagram, which represents “colour-coded examples of the five major categories of time-dependent nanotechnological development were combined and the contours of their respective locations superimposed onto the 2-dimensional chart of nanotechnology capabilities” could probably sneak into Tate Modern (click to enlarge).

The report, which was obviously not vetted by the Campaign for Plain English concludes that

“The NIA recognises that the advancement of nanotechnologies raises news issues, which need to be addressed in multi-disciplinary stakeholder debates. It is important to note that those nanotechnologies currently under debate by regulators, industries, scientists and the public, as well as in various multi-stakeholder bodies, are located in the bottom left corner of the chart. Even the concerns raised by far-fetched science-fiction scenarios often focus on areas far away from where the leading edge of technology is taking us, because we are currently not only lacking the tools that enable us to develop the long-term aspiration, but also the societal theories that could capture the impact of future technologies; both frameworks will need to be developed in parallel.”

All worthy stuff, but rather than figuring out where various nanotechnologies lie on various axes I’m always more interested in how much? How much market, how many litres, tons or units, how much risk, and how much return on any investment?

The other item that puzzled me was the small number (three) of applications filed under ‘long term aspirations,’ something that indicates that participants were being highly conservative or perhaps just unimaginative. Although this leaden dose of traditional British reserve makes a welcome change to the usual technology fantasies that nanotech attracts, surely ten years from now will be when things start to get exciting?

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