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Patchwork Regulation of Nanotech Could Be Grave Danger

The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) is deeply concerned about the potential for abuse of nanotechnology, and also about the serious hazards of unwise regulation.

CRN’s statement comes in response to a report by the University of Toronto Joint Centre for Bioethics, warning that a backlash against nanotechnology development is gathering momentum and needs to be addressed. Nanotechnology refers to the concept of building complicated machines out of precisely designed molecules. With devices only a few nanometers wide, it will become possible to build a supercomputer smaller than a grain of sand; a weapon smaller than a mosquito; a self-contained factory that sits on a kitchen counter.

“Dangerous misuse of advanced nanotech can come from a variety of quarters, not only from terrorists or criminals, but also from governments, corporations, and reckless individuals,” says Mike Treder, Executive Director of CRN. “Damage of many kinds—economic, environmental, human rights—must be contemplated and averted.”

“A patchwork of extremist solutions to the wide-ranging risks of advanced nanotechnology is a grave danger,” says Chris Phoenix, CRN’s Director of Research. All areas of society stand to be affected by molecular manufacturing, and unless comprehensive international plans are developed, the multiplicity of cures could be worse than the disease. The threat of harm would almost certainly be increased, while many extraordinary benefits could go unrealized.

Though perhaps well-motivated, calls for complete relinquishment of the technology are no less danger-provoking, and irresponsible, than is the cry for entirely unfettered development. “As our research continues, we become increasingly convinced that there are no easy answers to these problems,” says Phoenix. “Nevertheless, we have identified many areas where a middle-of-the-road solution is demonstrably safer than either extreme.”

“We have much to gain, and much to lose,” says Treder. “The need for sober and responsible public discussion of the implications of this new technology is acute and urgent.” Effective conduct of such a debate will rely on good information. CRN was formed to develop workable solutions by researching advanced nanotechnology and its social consequences.




Nanotechnology confrontation is looming, Betterhumans, February 2003


CRN was a non-profit research and advocacy organization, completely dependent on small grants and individual contributions.


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