Wednesday, February 22, 2006

Nanotechnology and Societal Transformation

This paper (pdf) by Michael Crow and Daniel Sarewitz contains this gem:
Three observations are particularly relevant here. First, the impact of rapid technological innovation on people’s lives is usually not consensual. Second, in the short term at least, the social changes induced by new technologies usually create both winners and losers (where what is lost may range from a job to an entire community). Third, rapid technological change can threaten the social structure, economic stability, and spiritual meaning that people strive in their lives to achieve. As the nanotechnology revolution begins to unfold in all its promise and diversity, such issues are bound to express themselves. They should not be viewed as threats, or as manifestations of intellectual weakness or repugnant ideology. Rather, they need to be recognized as a central part of the human context for technological change.

Monday, February 13, 2006

Technology development for the 3rd world

Think this method could be applied to nanotech:
Under an advance market commitment plan, the G-8 nations would promise to subsidize the purchase of new vaccines -- for between $800 million and $6 billion -- if pharmaceuticals companies develop ones that meet standards of efficacy and safety. Once the G-8 spends the pledged amount, the drug companies would sell the vaccine at a set discount in the developing world.

The idea is to ensure that companies get a substantial, upfront, government-backed financial incentive to develop the drugs, even if they ultimately have to sell them at a low price. "By restoring appropriate incentives," advance market commitments "can stimulate private research and investment, accelerate the discovery of new vaccines, save lives and contribute to economic development in a cost-effective way," Italian Finance Minister Giulio Tremonti wrote in a report to his G-8 colleagues in December.
Probably. It sounds like a good idea. Let the market do the work, but guide the market.

Thursday, February 09, 2006

Nano and the ELSI

The Bioethics Blog asks about Nanoethics - is there a there there?
But it is clear from reading just the 10% or so of the dozens of blogs and hundreds of articles that cross my desk in this area that there are interesting social issues here, and that they deserve serious consideration, whether they are special or not. They are there and even if the money devoted to "nanoethics" becomes much like that devoted to ELSI in its formative years at NHGRI, it is easy to see that careers built around the early study of the very small could yield very big scholarship, and new ways of communicating with the public. Even if at the end of the day the work these people do isn't primarily about nanotechnology.

And it seems clear too that the crowd who do nanoscience are just at the beginning of the curve when it comes to understanding the risks associated with making utopian projections for the future of bionanotechnology - projections whose analog in gene therapy resulted in huge misconceptions among research subjects. Just look to South Korea to see what happens when people believe that technology is earth shaking long before it can even shake the building.

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

SoTU Nanotech

Nanotechnology got a SoTU mention (of course, it's the most exciting of the research fields and the most bipartisanly supported so it was definitely going to):
First, I propose to double the federal commitment to the most critical basic research programs in the physical sciences over the next 10 years. This funding will support the work of America's most creative minds as they explore promising areas such as nanotechnology, supercomputing, and alternative energy sources.

And Science Magazine seems pretty excited:
On the energy front, Bush took an unexpected, strident turn toward clean fuels. Declaring that "America is addicted to oil," Bush said, "the best way to break this addiction is through technology." To do this, he proposed a 22% increase in funding for clean energy science, including an accelerated plan to spend $281 million for clean coal, $65 million in new funds for solar energy, $5 million in new wind power spending, and roughly $120 million in new funding on automobile research.

Science lobbyists are thrilled with the announcements. "[I'm] delighted," says Dan Reed, the Vice Chancellor of Information Technology and Chief Information Officer for the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, and long a leader among scientists pushing for funding for computer science. "This is something a lot of us have been working for a long time." Now the challenge, he said, is getting an enthusiastic Congress to make the money available in spending bills due in the fall.

Isn't that the truth...