An article in the Washington Post provides a general overview of nanotech. The one interesting fact that caught me eye: nanotech companies and researchers are hiring sociologists, philosophers, and ethicists, in attempt to get ahead of the curve on public opinion.
Opposition from the general public to new technologies is nothing new. Remember that the word “sabotage” comes from the French Luddite’s penchant for tossing shoes into the gearworks of automated mills that they saw as taking their jobs.
What we’ve seen in recent years is attempts to sway public opinion by those opposed to new technologies becoming more sophisticated… while the industries they target have blundered along. Take nuclear power, for example. Power companies were caught off-gaurd bu the anti-nuclear movement of the 70’s, and had no way to counter it. The result: no nuclear power plants have been built in the US for several decades.
The same scenario is playing out with biotechnology, at least in the sector of agriculture. In Europe, “frankenfood” is being rejected by the average consumer. Famine-stricken African countries have even rejected donations of genetically modified foods. The results in the US haven’t been as dramatic… yet. Debate continues on mandatory labeling of genetically modified foods.
It will be interesting to see whether nanotech and other emerging technologies have actually learned something from these past failures. Hopefully, this move is genuine… thinking long and hard about introducing a new technology into the complex combination of ecology, economy, and societies that we call home. On the other hand, they might be just trying to find ways to placate the public.