world awakening to nanotech/AI dangers — buckle your seat belts

All About Eve -- Bette Davis (Margo Channing)

All About Eve — Bette Davis (Margo Channing)

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Nanotech code – Big questions for tiny technology

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Ethical Corporation: Governance 14 Nov. 2007

Nanotechnology developers aim to head off a backlash by devising a voluntary code

“After years as the hottest of emerging technologies, nanotechnology is now hitting the shelves. Sunscreen, enhanced fabrics and material for car bodies are among a wave of products that amounted to a $50 billion market in 2006, according to nanotech specialist Lux Research. The pundits promise much more in the future: self-cleaning windows, cheap solar energy and a new generation of weapons for the US army [see].

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“But fears have coalesced over what many see as a scientific leap into the unknown. Patrick Lin, a director of the research institute Nanoethics Group, warns that a health or environmental disaster [see] might realistically emerge, as scientists bring new technologies to market quicker than regulators can get a grip on their implications.

“Because of their size, Lin argues, nanoparticles exhibit ‘novel and unpredictable properties,’ potentially including toxicity to humans. They can also slip through the net of existing sensor and filtration systems, he suggests, making current health or environmental regulations inadequate to deal with them.

“The Woodrow Wilson International Centre for Scholars warns that this may leave a glaring regulatory gap. In a report on the US Environmental Protection Agency‘s relationship with nanotechnology, it concludes that private companies can be trusted to test for immediate health hazards, such as burns or choking, but lack the means or incentives to establish whether they contribute to illnesses that develop over a 20-year timescale, such as cancer.

Responsible nanocode

To address these concerns, industry representatives led by BASF, Unilever and Smith & Nephew are working with non-governmental organisations, unions and investors to develop a draft code for nanotech companies.

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“According to London-based think-tank Demos, public opinion remains more optimistic than fearful about nanotechnology. All the same, the code will have to contend with initial stirrings of a public backlash.

“One strident Canadian NGO in July assembled an international line-up of groups to issue a strident call for a moratorium on research – including three national branches of Friends of the Earth. [see Nanotechnology Law]
“As Lin argues, nanotechnology’s promise will not be realised unless industry manages to assuage these fears.” . . . (full article)

Image Credits: GoneMovie.com and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

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Newcomb’s commentary: “”Buckle your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” Margo Channing (Bette Davis), All About Eve

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