Beta
×

Welcome to the Slashdot Beta site -- learn more here. Use the link in the footer or click here to return to the Classic version of Slashdot.

Thank you!

Before you choose to head back to the Classic look of the site, we'd appreciate it if you share your thoughts on the Beta; your feedback is what drives our ongoing development.

Beta is different and we value you taking the time to try it out. Please take a look at the changes we've made in Beta and  learn more about it. Thanks for reading, and for making the site better!

Insurance Industry Warned of Nanotechnology Risks

michael posted more than 10 years ago | from the cookie-cutter dept.

Biotech 165

SilentScream writes "Cordis reports that major reinsurance company Swiss Re has advised insurance companies that they may need to reconsider covering products manufactured using nanotechnology until more is known about any possible side effects of the technology. The recommendation is detailed in a 57-page report titled 'Nanotechnology - Small matter, many unknowns', which is available on the Swiss Re web site. The report acknowledges that further research is needed but outlines the possible effects of nanotechnology on the human brain and the potential for an asbestos-like threat."

cancel ×

165 comments

Sorry! There are no comments related to the filter you selected.

Glad (4, Interesting)

PktLoss (647983) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266413)

I am glad to see some sort of forward thinking on the possible risks on this new technology. Though it surprises me to see the source isnt government regulation, but instead insurance hesitation.

Capitolism Works?

Re:Glad (4, Interesting)

mobiux (118006) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266454)

I am not sure why it would suprise you.

Most insurance companies will go to great lengths to not have to cover a procedure.
It's in their best financial interest to fully cover as little as possible.

It was fairly recently that even pregnancy coverage was mandated by the government.

Re:Glad (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9266499)

Don't forget to pay your $699 SCO fee, you cocksmoking teabaggers.

Re:Glad (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9266724)

Why would an insurance company want to NOT cover as much as possible? They get paid for covering stuff. That is their business. I can see them being cautious about new technology, but as soon as they determine a rate that they are sure will bring profit, they will cover anything.

funding (5, Interesting)

zogger (617870) | more than 10 years ago | (#9268144)

Insurance companies are in no way totally funded by what you pay for an insurance premium. Not even close, in the vast majority of cases. Most of them are part of conglomerates, and make their real money in diverse ways, large wall street trading, mortgage brokering and so on. All of them are seeing their businesses go south in this economny, at the same time that risks are being better analysed. In addition, they have suffered some pretty significant losses in the past, after first being "assured" by scientists and whatnot that such and such was "completely safe", asbestos being mentioned in the opening blurb being a very good example. Here's a clue: scientists are just as often wrong in their future predictions as they are right. Hmm, another one. I can distinctly remember any number of "scientists" and "government spokes people" assuring the US and the military that "agent orange" was perfectly harmless and safe.

Turns out they were wrong, wrong on asbestos, wrong on agent orange, but... you get the same amount of "scientists" now as back then still pulling the same thing-they invent something, and almost immediately say it's "safe" if there's an immediate or close to immediate mega profit angle that can be garnered.

With nano-they do NOT know what is going to be safe and what isn't, so from the insurance companies POV it's "waitaminnit fellas, you gave us this song and dance before,so let's just think on this again, or you guys underwrite it yourselves".

That's all that's going on now, and the insurance guys would be total fools to not be professional skeptics of "scientists" or "industrys" claims on this or that. Fool me once, shame on you, fool me 2983 times, well shame on me. Even the dullest wits eventually bingo to what is a good deal or not. That's the position they are in now. for some things, there's no amount of money available to cover some of the potential risks, so it's uninsurable. Just the way things are I guess. If it costs as much to insure some piece of tech as you would hope to benefit from it, then it's a better idea to just skip it, go on to something else.

Re:Glad (2, Interesting)

das_cookie (619577) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266795)

Most insurance companies will go to great lengths to not have to cover a procedure.

That's not necessarily so. What they will do is go to great lengths to understand the risks they are taking to cover a hazard. They have to do this - to not understand the ramifications of a risk before covering it is financial folly. And like it or not, the insurance companies are in the business of making money. They have based their rates on covering a known set of risks. If new risks are found, then either they must exclude them or charge more for the coverage.

It was fairly recently that even pregnancy coverage was mandated by the government.

So? With that mandate comes higher premiums. It's a risk that wasn't covered because it's a risk people choose to undertake and should be prepared to handle on their own. If I understand this mandate correctly, it simply amounts to subsidized health care as opposed to risk mitigation. Of course, that's what health insurance is evolving into these days anyway, so no surprise, I guess.

Re:Glad (3, Informative)

Dynamic Ranger (725268) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266890)

We tend to be suprised because we are more used to thinking that businesses raise prices either to cover increased costs or to take advantage of increased demand.

In this case, if there are increased costs or demand for "nano-insurance" it is not obvious. More likely, companies who make profit by mitigating risk are *creating* new market space by spinning up the popular uncertainty/unfamiliarity of the new technology as "risk."

Good Primer on Nanotech (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9266457)

A good primer on Nanotech is Diamond Age by that guy who wrote the Cryptonomicon. It is a really well thought out future. The nanobots infecting the drummers may be a long way off but we don't know where this technology may go so it is very risky.

Re:Good Primer on Nanotech (4, Insightful)

B'Trey (111263) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266518)

Every technology is risky. We should go back to plowing fields with oxen and hunting with a bow and arrow, then we'd be safe from all of this horrible technology. Millions might die of hunger, but hey, at least they won't be killed by technology.

Re:Good Primer on Nanotech (1)

TRS80NT (695421) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267340)

Actually, bows and arrows were a pretty big technological leap. And as for oxen: aren't they, um, genetically "engineered" bulls?

Re:Good Primer on Nanotech (1)

hyperstation (185147) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266611)

this looks interesting, and it's at my local library.

thanks, i think i'll check it out.

Rob Malda cannot stop us (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9266468)

SCO: The GNAA-Nigerian connection

Dear Sir/Madam:

I am Mr. Darl McBride currently serving as the president and chief executive
officer of the SCO Group, formerly known as Caldera Systems International, in
Lindon, Utah, United States of America. I know this letter might surprise you
because we have had no previous communications or business dealings before now.

My associates have recently made claim to computer softwares worth an estimated
$1 billion U.S. dollars. I am writing to you in confidence because we urgently
require your assistance to obtain these funds.

In the early 1970s the American Telephone and Telegraph corporation developed
at great expense the computer operating system software known as UNIX.
Unfortunately the laws of my country prohibited them from selling these
softwares and so their valuable source codes remained privately held. Under a
special arrangement some programmers from the California University of Berkeley
did add more codes to this operating system, increasing its value, but not in
any way to dilute or disparage our full and rightful ownership of these codes,
despite any agreement between American Telephone and Telegraph and the
California University of Berkeley, which agreement we deny and disavow.

In the year 1984 a change of regime in my country allowed the American
Telephone and Telegraph corporation to make profits from these softwares. In
the year 1990 ownership of these softwares was transferred to the corporation
UNIX System Laboratories. In the year 1993 this corporation was sold to the
corporation Novell. In the year 1994 some employees of Novell formed the
corporation Caldera Systems International, which began to distribute an upstart
operating system known as Linux. In the year 1995 Novell sold the UNIX software
codes to SCO. In the year 2001 occurred a separation of SCO, and the SCO brand
name and UNIX codes were acquired by the Caldera Systems International, and in
the following year the Caldera Systems International was renamed SCO Group, of
which i currently serve as chief executive officer.

My associates and I of the SCO Group are therefore the full and rightful owners
of the operating system softwares known as UNIX. Our engineers have discovered
that no fewer than seventy (70) lines of our valuable and proprietary source
codes have appeared in the upstart operating system Linux. As you can plainly
see, this gives us a claim on the millions of lines of valuable software codes
which comprise this Linux and which has been sold at great profit to very many
business enterprises. Our legal experts have advised us that our contribution
to these codes is worth an estimated one (1) billion U.S. dollars.

Unfortunately we are having difficulty extracting our funds from these computer
softwares. To this effect i have been given the mandate by my colleagues to
contact you and ask for your assistance. We are prepared to sell you a share in
this enterprise, which will soon be very profitable, that will grant you the
rights to use these valuable softwares in your business enterprise.
Unfortunately we are not able at this time to set a price on these rights.
Therefore it is our respectful suggestion, that you may be immediately a party
to this enterprise, before others accept these lucrative terms, that you send
us the number of a banking account where we can withdraw funds of a suitable
amount to guarantee your participation in this enterprise. As an alternative
you may send us the number and expiration date of your major credit card, or
you may send to us a signed check from your banking account payable to "SCO
Group" and with the amount left blank for us to conveniently supply.

Kindly treat this request as very important and strictly confidential. I
honestly assure you that this transaction is 100% legal and risk-free.

Signed, GNAA president

PS. If you have mod points and would like to support GNAA, please moderate this post up.

Re:Glad (4, Interesting)

thefirelane (586885) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266515)

It only surprises you because you assume most things now run by the government were invented by it.

First fire companies.... Yup, insurance companies protecting its assets
First alarms about obesity in America... yup life insurance companies. This was back in the 1900s, when the government, and general opinion advised people to eat more and gain weight to combat "wasting diseases".

Capitalism does indeed work, because it assigns things value. When things have a value they are protected.

Re:Glad (3, Interesting)

I_M_Noman (653982) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266583)

It only surprises you because you assume most things now run by the government were invented by it.


First fire companies.... Yup, insurance companies protecting its assets
Here in NYC, the first fire companies were actually created by neighborhood gangs back in the early- to mid-1800s. The rival gangs would sometimes fight over who got to a fire first and who should have the honor of putting it out -- to the point where occasionally the building would burn down while the rival gangs were fighting.

Re:Glad (1, Funny)

duffbeer703 (177751) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266617)

And also note that if the building didn't burn to the ground, the helpful volunteers would loot the building of its intact contents.

Re:Glad (1)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266646)

I wonder what makes you think the first fire companies were in NYC?

They had a fire service in ancient rome. Brothels and corrupt city officials too!

Re:Glad (1)

untaken_name (660789) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266657)

He said "Here in NYC, the first fire companies were..."
This indicates not that he believes they were the first fire companies in existence, but that he is referring to the first fire companies that existed in NYC.

Re:Glad (1)

sholden (12227) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266784)

Your English parsing skills need some work.

Re:Glad (4, Interesting)

MaxQuordlepleen (236397) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266654)

In the late Roman Republic, private fire companies were run like extortion rings. Crassus of the first Triumvirate was one of these folks. He would come up with his fire crew while your house burned down, and make a ridiculously low offer to buy the property. If he was refused, the fire company went home.

Re:Glad (1)

thefirelane (586885) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267170)

Here in NYC, the first fire companies were actually created by neighborhood gangs back in the early- to mid-1800s. The rival gangs would sometimes fight over who got to a fire first and who should have the honor of putting it out -- to the point where occasionally the building would burn down while the rival gangs were fighting.

Please tell me you didn't get your history from watching "Gangs of New York" (just checking)

Re:Glad (2, Funny)

kin_korn_karn (466864) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266613)

Since, as we all know, capitalism is so much better than government, in every single way. Who needs an army? Who needs roads? We have STOCK, motherfucker! We should abolish all governments and re-organize our nations around corporate city-states.

Being a resident of the St. Louis metro area, I would change from American to Anheuser-Buschian.

Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.

People are so fucking clueless.

Re:Glad (1, Funny)

schemanista (739124) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266656)

Aaah, to be 15 again.

Re:Glad (1, Insightful)

kin_korn_karn (466864) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266948)

The Young Republican/Ayn Randian contingent around here will all be dependent on a corporation someday, and that corporation will let them down. Maybe put them in a bad financial situation (unless they live in mommy's basement for their ENTIRE life, not just their entire young adult life). Will you all say, "thank you sir, may I have another?" Will you say that it was the right thing to fuck you over? Do you suffer from that much self-loathing?

When you are dying in the gutter because you've sold the entire country to corporations that shipped your job overseas, I pray to God you're not stupid enough to thank them for it.

Re:Glad (0, Flamebait)

Art_XIV (249990) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267481)

Minor Correction:

The Democrat/Statist contingent around here will all be dependent on the government someday, and that government will let them down. Maybe put them in a bad financial situation (unless they live in mommy's basement for their ENTIRE life, not just their entire young adult life). Will you all say, "thank you sir, may I have another?" Will you say that it was the right thing to fuck you over? Do you suffer from that much self-loathing?

When you are dying in the gutter because you've sold your future to the government that made sure that no-one wants to do business in the U.S.A, I pray to God you're not stupid enough to thank them for it.

Re:Glad (2, Insightful)

Planesdragon (210349) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267769)

The Democrat/Statist contingent around here will all be dependent on the government someday, and that government will let them down.

Slight clarification: When the government lets down the socalists, they will go and get a new government with essentially the same capital, less a bit for overhead.

When the corporations let down the libertarians, they'll start from scratch with no capital whatsoever.

If you have the choice between a dystopia where no one does business--and thus we all barter and farm to survive--and one where we all starve to death for lack of money and aren't allowed to farm land because we don't own it--which one would you prefer?

Re:Glad (1)

schemanista (739124) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267943)

Yes, we're all impressed that you've read No Logo [amazon.ca] . Your strident over-simplification still makes you seem like a 15-year old slamming his bedroom door in a fit of pique.

I was pointing out that your manner of expression weakens your message. If the Republican/Randian dig is aimed at me, you couldn't be further from my political leanings [www.ndp.ca]

Guess it was too much to expect that the ".ca" would tip you off that our world views might be a liiiitle different.

Re:Glad (1)

untaken_name (660789) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266691)

Since, as we all know, capitalism is so much better than government, in every single way.

Since, as we all know, comparing economic theory to government is valid.
Oh, wait....

Re:Glad (1)

Jeff DeMaagd (2015) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266685)

I wouldn't go that far. I'm not sure the insurance companies want to insure anything.

At least with my dad's experiences, it seems as if the insurance industry is practically unwilling to insure anything but tiny risks. My parents put in a pool, diving board and fence combination that went by national standards but the insurance company simply decided to yank house insurance. They are low risk people that only had made one minor claim in twenty years, but forget that, they have a pool now. My parents would have been happy to pay an appropriate rate increase, forget that, they were uninsured for a few months while looking for a replacement company. They've had other odd run-ins with business insurance too which I won't go into right now, and the business hasn't made any claims in fifteen years that I remember.

Re:Glad (2, Insightful)

Scott Richter (776062) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266721)

I am glad to see some sort of forward thinking on the possible risks on this new technology. Though it surprises me to see the source isnt government regulation, but instead insurance hesitation.

I truly mean no offense, but the way you phrase your statement - "*this* new technology" - belies the fact that you (like the insurance companies here) don't know what nanotechnology *is*.

First, nanotech is a very loose definition for anything small. It isn't a technology - it is a very heterogeneous collection of diverse technologies bearing no resemblance to each other except that they have small, well-controlled features. To be described as nanotech, your device must have features or design control on a level below 200 nm. As such, things that are "nanotech" need not even be small, but rather large and very regularly patterned.

As such, each technology needs to be evaluated separately, just as larger technologies would. People in general don't know what nanotech is - and isn't - and in the scientific world, it's just a word to put on grant proposals to impress reviewers.

People are afraid of "nanotech" (whatever it is or isn't) because they don't know what it is. Are there some technologies that have the potential for danger? Of course, and that's true on any size scale.

To make real-world examples, here are some things that would meet the definition of nanotech:

iridescent peacock feathers

crystals of anything, including salt.

A layer of oil on water

living cells

computer chips

When you give examples of this nebulous, fear-inspiring phenomenon, it's hard to be afraid of the concept. Again, trying to deal with "nanotech" as a united whole is a flawed premise from the start,.

Re:Glad (1)

stereo_Barryo (530287) | more than 10 years ago | (#9268306)

"except that they have small, well controlled features"
No, if they were well-controlled there wouldn't be a need for insurance. "To make real-world examples, here are some things that would meet the definition of nanotech: " No, again, tech stuff is not natural ( technology is man-made ). Peacock feathers, salt and living cells are not tech. Throwing around these phrases so loosely makes your whole understanding questionable.

Re:Glad (2, Interesting)

AchilleTalon (540925) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267803)

There is nothing closer to democracy (or even socialism) than an insurance company.

An insurance company is not much more than a collection of individuals grouped together to share the risk each one represent and help each other in case something goes wrong. So, each one is interested to be better covered at the lowest price. From this, everything else can be predicted...

oh, come on (2, Funny)

millahtime (710421) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266420)

nano tech didn't hurt Jake 2.0

It made him faster, stronger and able to control computers with his mind.

Yeah right (2, Insightful)

Neurotoxic666 (679255) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266437)

"Are these invisible particles dangerous to our breathing? What happens if nanotechnologically manufactured products end up on the refuse dump and their particles are released into the environment?"

Are they even aware that Skynet is taken from a movie? Like science needed more technophobic zealots anyway...

Re:Yeah right (5, Informative)

PhuCknuT (1703) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266514)

Uhm, they aren't talking about skynet or grey goo or any technophobic BS like that. They're talking about nano-sized dust that could cause problems similar to asbestos when inhaled. It's absolutely a real problem that should be researched.

Re:Yeah right (1)

Neurotoxic666 (679255) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266586)

I am sorry, but if so is the case, then why aren't scientifics and/or government agencies takinng care of it instead. A private insurance company is not asked to comment on this or that technology. They're simply trying to cover their asses (which is predictable from insurance companies) but they do so by trying to scare the shit out of everybody.

Just like when the pope comments on preservatives or when mormons talk about the internet, they should not be given any credibility...

Re:Yeah right (1)

hplasm (576983) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266638)

Just like when the pope comments on preservatives

I thought all popes were full of preservatives..?

Re:Yeah right (3, Informative)

schemanista (739124) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266764)

I am sorry, but if so is the case, then why aren't scientifics and/or government agencies takinng care of it instead.

From the FA, had you chosen to read it:

'As a major risk carrier, the insurance industry can only responsibly support the introduction of a new technology if it can evaluate and calculate its inherent risks,' says Swiss Re. 'A risk needs to be identified before its consequences can be measured and a decision can be reached on the optimal risk management approach...


... A concern for many insurance companies could be that claims such as those related to asbestos exposure could be repeated. Recent illness-related claims have sometimes dated back to exposure in the 1970s, and have cost insurance companies billions of euro.

It seems to me that a the board of directors of a corporation that may find itself financially affected by unintended consequences which arise from the use of nanotechnology probably has a duty to its shareholders to be at least a little nervous about possible future liabilities.

Re:Yeah right (1)

PhuCknuT (1703) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266921)

Who said scientists and governments aren't dealing with it also? In typical slashdot fashion, this article will be taken way out of context by everyone. It's just a report written by one insurance company, intended only for other insurance companies.

Re:Yeah right (1)

tgibbs (83782) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267247)

I am sorry, but if so is the case, then why aren't scientifics and/or government agencies takinng care of it instead. A private insurance company is not asked to comment on this or that technology.

It is their business to quantify risk. Nothing is more dangerous to the survival of an insurance company than an unquantified risk, because it makes it impossible for them to know what to charge for insurance. They have a legal responsibility of their investors to do their best to anticipate and quantify the risks of new technologies.

Ah! (1)

Neurotoxic666 (679255) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266516)

Sorry. I hate to reply to my own posts, but I realised I made I mistake. I think they're actualy refering to medichlorians.

Re:Yeah right (5, Insightful)

lovecult (682522) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266775)

Far from seeming to be technophobic zealotry, the report appears to ask questions from a philosophically disinterested perspective.

It does not say "It will all go horribly wrong", in a technophic vein.
Rather, asks open, critical questions, that lead to the question most important for the interests of the insurance industry:
"are we at risk of losing money?"
Hardly zealotry.

Skynet succeeds as a dramatic device, because of its resonance in our culture.
It is a reflection of healthy distrust.

We have learnt to love the beauty of scientific philosophy and the comfort it has brought us.
But, we had out fingers burnt by asbestos, thalidomide, dirty air, ... the list goes on.

Why should we cede automatic trust to those who can make huge profits now, and never have to pay more than a fraction of the cost when things go abominably wrong?

I for one, refuse to bow to our new nanotech engineering masters

haven't noticed anything weird yet... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9266440)

last time i checked there was nothing wrong with my pet nano#*!* krgg, ackkkkk

what was i saying?

chickens and eggs (2, Funny)

sketchelement (725382) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266444)

It's kind of a Chicken/Egg problem for the insurers, isn't it?

That is until the first lawsuits start getting settled. Then I suppose the actuaries'll have the real benchmark they need.

No big deal. (5, Funny)

cafal (676675) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266447)

I'd say the risks of nanotechnology are of small concern.

Re:No big deal. (0)

Malc (1751) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266477)

Why?

obvious answer (1, Funny)

dman123 (115218) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266537)

Because cafal cares very little about it.

Re:No big deal. (1)

HolyCoitus (658601) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266562)

Was a joke highlighting size. As I'm sure you know, things with nanotechnology are small.

Re:No big deal. (1)

Malc (1751) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266626)

Oh dear. It's too early for jokes like this. I'll go away now.

Re:No big deal. (-1, Redundant)

orthogonal (588627) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266662)

I'd say the risks of nanotechnology are of small concern.
Why?

But apparently not so small they can't nevertheless go over some peoples' heads. :)

Are you ready for the Grey Death? (1, Funny)

Travoltus (110240) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266455)

JC Denton, slap summadat Deus Ex (Machina) on us, quick! :)

This shouldn't surprise anyone (1)

192939495969798999 (58312) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266456)

Let's see... product has leftover nanotube dust on it, and said dust can permeate essentially anything, including skin cells... hmmm. That doesn't sound promising!

Re:This shouldn't surprise anyone (2, Insightful)

Short Circuit (52384) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266681)

I'm surprised nobody's been doing research to find accidentally manufactured nano-products.

Nanotubes and buckyballs were originally manufactured by burning graphite rods, IIRC. And you can't tell me similar conditions don't exist elsewhere, such as coal-based power plants and steel refineries. Other particles of potential concern can probably be found in the same way.

Finally, AFAIK, there's not much difference between nanotechnology-produced devices and other artificially-produced chemicals. If anything, a nanomachine would be humongous, compared to common hydrocarbons or even laundry detergents. Just because it has the word "nano" in it doesn't mean we don't already work with smaller things.

Re:This shouldn't surprise anyone (1)

JGski (537049) | more than 10 years ago | (#9268313)

Indeed. The post-industrial rise in all sorts of "industrial nation" diseases, e.g. cancers, infertility, autism, etc., could very well be tied to something like that.

lawyers run the show (3, Insightful)

vijayiyer (728590) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266462)

Yet again, lawyers will dictate the course of technology - the fear of a lawsuit jacks up insurance rates, which makes research and development excessively costly.

Re:lawyers run the show (1)

SamiousHaze (212418) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266580)

I disagree with that line of thinking. There is risk of very serious harm done by this technology - with the irresponsibility of some tech companies, i can see why insurance companies are concerned. Its like an insurance company insuring a lab who's working on a super virus... that is inherently more risky than a company working on building picture frames... Or at least if something *DOES* happen, it'll be much worse.

Re:lawyers run the show (4, Insightful)

taped2thedesk (614051) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266619)

"Yet again, lawyers will dictate the course of technology - the fear of a lawsuit jacks up insurance rates, which makes research and development excessively costly."

But if lawsuits do happen, and the insurance companies don't charge the nanotech firms enough to , then the costs will get passed on to the consumer through higher insurance rates for everything else. In the end, it really doesn't matter... consumers will get screwed either way.

At least by raising rates, the insurance companies are encouraging more research into potenial health hazards of nanotech. Failing to research these hazards would be extremely unethical, and would be bad from a business sense (if there are problems once nanotech is widespread, a lot more R&D money will have been wasted than if they found it early on and could either abandon the research or find ways to make it safe). Once it can be shown that nanotech isn't going to be cause lung problems, etc., then rates will drop back down. This encourages nanotech companies to to conduct the research now (to get their rates down), rather than wait until we're hit by a wave of mesothelioma.

I can't believe I'm actually defending insurance companies :-/

Re:lawyers run the show (1)

CodeBuster (516420) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267750)

Insurance companies can only pass increased costs unto consumers up to a point. Eventually, some consumers will decide that the cost of the insurance, when weighted against the benefits of protection against some loss, is too high and they will leave the market. This leaves fewer people paying into the insurance market which causes costs to move even higher for those that remain because the potential risk of loss is being spread over fewer policy holders. This is compounded by the fact that those policy holders who do remain in the market are most probably paying the higher rates because they know that they are more likely to experience a loss and therefore to collect their insurance benefits when that loss occurs. After some period of time the cycle begins again and prices continue to rise in an ever increasing spiral. Economists refer to this as the "adverse selection problem" and this is EXACTLY what is happening in the healthcare industry right now. Insurance companies have tried to compel consumers to price themselves in the market by means of the deductible, but such measures cannot completely halt the upward spiral of costs. However, in spite of all of this insurance companies do indeed provide a valuable service which for the most part is needed by the public. Now if we could only reign in the lawyers who prey upon the insurance industry we might actually stabilize the situation...

Re:lawyers run the show (1)

sketchelement (725382) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266905)

...the fear of a lawsuit jacks up insurance rates, which makes research and development excessively costly.

I think that research and development is being strangled more by fear of patent litigation than fear of product liability lawsuits.

I'm not sure, but I'd guess that fear of product liability lawsuits and the subsequent jacking up of insurance rates would more directly affect the sales and marketing of a product -- and ultimately the availability and price of a product.

Why dont they study (5, Funny)

stratjakt (596332) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266474)

The risks of cloning dinosaurs or time travel?

But then, people take sci-fi horseshit pretty seriously these days. I was watching a Greenpeace guy debate some scientist about "the day after tomorrow" on some news show.

Re:Why dont they study (2, Informative)

PhuCknuT (1703) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266555)

Unlike cloning dinosaurs and time travel, this isn't sci-fi BS that they are talking about. They aren't looking into grey goo or other technophobic crap like that, the article is simply about the effects of nanoscopic particles on living tissue. There is evidence to show that nanodust could cause lung problems or worse, and research needs to be done before nanotech starts being widely used.

Re:Why dont they study (2, Insightful)

thayner (130464) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266684)

They could also study how many lives will be saved by nanotechnology, but being an insurance company this is not their focus. If nanotechnology saves 1000 lives and kills one, the insurance company's problem is still the millions of dollars they'll need to pay out in lawsuits.

Re:Why dont they study (1)

untaken_name (660789) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266767)

Unlike cloning dinosaurs and time travel, this isn't sci-fi BS that they are talking about. They aren't looking into grey goo or other technophobic crap like that, the article is simply about the effects of nanoscopic particles on living tissue. There is evidence to show that nanodust could cause lung problems or worse, and research needs to be done before nanotech starts being widely used.

What I want to know is why don't they just plan on using nanotech to make nanomachines capable of fixing the damage caused by making the nanomachine-making machines? Then we'd all just take our 'bots instead of our vitamins every day, and we'd be fine. Plus I want the nano-skin care bots Popular Science promised me back in the '80s.

Re:Why dont they study (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9268120)

No kidding! And asbestos, too! What a joke!

Ethics (4, Interesting)

millahtime (710421) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266487)

When I was in college we were required to take an ethics course for engineers. We design so many things and don't take many of the risks into account.

Because of that, universities are trying to teach students about risk/reward, ethics and the rest. Turns out there needs to be someone looking out for things. If something isn't insured and it costs as much as nanotech then odds are it will run into a lot of problems getting financed. I see this as a good checks and balance thing.

Re:Ethics (1)

canoe_head (772949) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267023)

I agree with you in theory, however in practice insurace companies will skin you the first chance they get.

Example, I worked at summer camp at in northern Ontario, Canada (Camp Temagami [camptemagami.com] ), that does remote wilderness canoe trips. After 9/11 our insurance jumped 50%. Why? Because they can. It's not like the terrorists are going to target northern Ontario... it could be weeks before anybody realized that there was a terrorist attack. No CNN coverage up here, but somehow things had changed post 9/11 and we were at a higher risk.

Mmm (2, Insightful)

bo0ork (698470) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266489)

When an insurance company says something is bad or good, and is willing to back it with money (or not, as in this case), I trust them. Unlike product manufacturers, these guys actually has something to lose by being dishonest.

Re:Mmm (2, Insightful)

JosKarith (757063) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266565)

Riiiight.
Insurance companies are notorious for using anyting that happens as either -
a) a reason to jack up premiums, or
b) a reason to not pay out.
or both.

Generally, insurance companies write clauses into their contracts to weasel out of paying in the 2-3 most likely circumstances.
and compulsory insurance is just a license for them to print money.

Re:Mmm (2, Funny)

untaken_name (660789) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266805)

Riiiight.
Insurance companies are notorious for using anyting that happens as either -
a) a reason to jack up premiums, or
b) a reason to not pay out.
or both.

Generally, insurance companies write clauses into their contracts to weasel out of paying in the 2-3 most likely circumstances.
and compulsory insurance is just a license for them to print money.


Yeah. Like the time they told me that my not-at-fault accident was an act of God because God made the guy that hit me. It didn't help when I told them he was an atheist. Bastards.

Curious (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9266490)

What does Nanotechnology have to do with Stock Photography?

Nanotech risks? (5, Funny)

Dr Cool (671556) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266494)

I've been working with carbon nanotubes (buckyballs) for 5 years, no filters, no clean rooms, no suits, none of that fancy stuff. Carbon nanotubes are basically a superfine black dust. I haven't any I haven't I haven't noticed haven't noticed noticed haven't noticed I haven't noticed any problems.

Re:Nanotech risks? (2, Interesting)

Cyno01 (573917) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266595)

Despite being carbon based life forms, carbon is not good for us. Not sure about nano-tubes, but i can attest to coughing like a 60 year old 3 pack a day smoker for a week after shoveling out a coal room in an old house friends of my parents bought.

Re:Nanotech risks? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9266755)

I haven't any I haven't I haven't noticed haven't noticed noticed haven't noticed I haven't noticed any problems.

Uh, just a warning, I think you're turning into Max Headroom.

Have your movements been jerky/spastic lately?

Re:Nanotech risks? (1, Funny)

Hiro Antagonist (310179) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266757)

I haven't any I haven't I haven't noticed haven't noticed noticed haven't noticed I haven't noticed any problems.

Hey, Max Headroom, when did you start posting on /.?

Re:Nanotech risks? (1)

AC-x (735297) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266793)

I think you'll find that buckyballs kill brain cells [azonano.com]

Coal dust (1)

nuggz (69912) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267058)

Coal dust is just a fine black dust.
Not many coal miners would argue that it is harmless.

Why dont they just rob us instead. (0, Flamebait)

kraemer (637938) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266498)

Insurance companies are always looking for ways not to pay for anything. Why dont they just stop operating under the facade of "insuring" us and just rob us at gunpoint instead?

Re:Why dont they just rob us instead. (1)

Patrik_AKA_RedX (624423) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266706)

Dude, that would take all the fun out of it. I guess you never had the pleasure to ruin someones hopes just by point to a small line of text.

Re:Why dont they just rob us instead. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9266707)

The only insurance anyone is forceing you to but is probably liability coverage on your car. While I admit auto insurers can be the wost example of your statement, even from personal experience, they are a nececary evil.

Re:Why dont they just rob us instead. (1)

mark2003 (632879) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267101)

How can this be flaimbait - is this a board for underwriters or techies?

Re:Why dont they just rob us instead. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#9267608)

I work for an insurance company, you insensitive clod!

Eh? I know there's no such thing as... (2, Insightful)

exp(pi*sqrt(163)) (613870) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266500)

...nanotechnology. I'm sure you also know. "Nano" is just a morpheme people bandy around who are trying to get funding. But this is terrible news. It looks like the insurance companies have been fooled into thinking it does really exist and so are going to use it as a convenient excuse to increase our premiums.

Listen to the insurance companies... (4, Insightful)

sohojim (676510) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266504)

Put simply, they have a lot of money tied up in everything, and it's all about the numbers to them. Everything from how many 40-year-olds break their left ankle all the way up to what happens if millions of people inhale nanobots that destroy their lungs on the inside.

They also addressed climate change from a relatively broad range of perspectives a couple of years ago. See this report [lbl.gov] .

Of course, if we all go gray goo, there won't be anyone left to pay a claim to. :-)

You mean like... (1)

devphaeton (695736) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266524)

....getting a nanodevice in your eye or under your fingernail?

Or nanobots replicating out of control until the earth is buried in grey goo? (yeah, i borrowed that one)..

Seriously though... There is a lot of good, and a lot of bad that can come out of nanodevices. Especially in the wartime or medical fields.

Common Sense (3, Insightful)

ShinSugoi (783392) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266554)

As much as I would like to join the cries of "horrible insurance rates", the Insurance industry has good reason to be hesitant. We really don't know what sorts of effects many nano-sized objects will have when they interact with the human body, and it's perfectly understandable for them to desire to measure the risk before they insure it.

That is, after all, the basis of their business model.

One of the most effective ways to gain leverage (4, Insightful)

StandardCell (589682) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266608)

For those of us who are even slightly environmentally or health conscious, the effects of nanotech-related waste of one type or another should be of concern. From the mercury used to extract gold to the lead used in the solder of so many electronic devices, we now have a new potential threat in the form of nanomaterials.

It's not my intention to come off as a luddite, but these materials are potentially nasty. They react in very different ways than regular chemicals, and for the first time we have materials we can't assume that the natural environment of our planet will simply sweep them away to where we can't see them and where they won't affect us. We really need to be paying attention right here and right now because these materials can persist in our environment for a long time and are not easily incinerated or chemically treated.

The insurance industry should be taking a close look at covering the liability of companies involved in the manufacture and use of nanomaterials. The companies using nanomaterials ought to be held to the highest standards and employ rigorous manufacturing, environmental protection and recycling programs. Why should insurers be covering risk if their manufacturing plant is releasing carcinogenic and mutagenic material that embeds itself in the soil and never leaves it? I believe in conjuntion with government environmental protection agencies, companies will think carefully about employing such techniques. We can't afford to let it get to the point where the government or individuals start suing because of the damage, but neither can a company afford to get its insurance premiums hiked substantially or its coverage dropped.

The bottom line: if you're concerned about nanotech manufacturing facilities, live near a dump, or otherwise are going to be near these materials, get active and involved and start reporting the facts about nanotech materials to companies' insurers and other government agencies to ensure your safety and that of your children.

Also, on a slightly unrelated note, insurance companies are a great way to gain leverage against companies and organizations that screw you over. Whether you complain incessantly about unmaintained gym equipment, an apartment building full of mold, or an employer who insists on putting its employees in potentially dangerous situations, an insurer will always be interested in anything that's not disclosed to them that would affect their coverage risk. If you can find out who insures a company with such a "flaw," you can exact justice by simply documenting the issues with the insurer. Believe me, they DO listen and they WILL get on it.

Re:One of the most effective ways to gain leverage (2, Insightful)

Curunir_wolf (588405) | more than 10 years ago | (#9268000)

It's not my intention to come off as a luddite, but these materials are potentially nasty.

No, instead you come off like a chicken-little-hippy-activist scare monger.

Yes, precautions developing nanotech are important, but the potential benefits to everyone are tremendous. We need to be supporting this type of research, not running around encouraging the ignorant to demonstrate and complain about how worried they are.

This exact attitude is why there is a shortage of nuclear power in the US, which could have been replacing the polluting coal and oil plants over the last 20 years.

California didn't institute rolling blackouts because they thought it was convenient, it was because of the NIMBY lobby and vocal ignorant masses pushing legislation that made it impracticle to build ANY kind of power plant. Surprise, surprise, there is then an energy crisis on the left coast.

Don't throw out the baby with the bath water. There are plenty of folks, such as the CBEN [rice.edu] studying nanotech to ensure safety. We don't need to raise a public outcry.

Re:One of the most effective ways to gain leverage (2, Informative)

Goldsmith (561202) | more than 10 years ago | (#9268030)

You might want to use a few different examples than lead and mercury, because those ARE regular chemicals, elements even. We've had health problems with those for hundreds of years. While that is a problem we'll have associated with nanotechnology, it's not something NEW to worry about, as it's a general electronics manufacturing problem.

I'm not disagreeing with you at all, just saying that you've got two problems here. One is the industrial-age old problem of metal pollutants, the other is the brand new problem of unknown nanoscale materials.

There are many many new materials discovered every week which have unknown health and environmental effects. Where do nanotubes go when they're not used in a device, and how long do they stay there? We don't know. We need to be active in researching these things and advertising the results.

Really though, get some better examples because it sounds a little silly to call solder a nanomaterial.

What difference does it make? (1)

NetNinja (469346) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266609)

No matter what, it is only going to take a particle of wayward nanotechnology to wipe out half the population of the world.

Since when does ethics take a front seat when there is so much money to be made.

There is probably some privately funded lab somewhere doing all sorts of research. The same goes for clonning, it's only a matter of time before things get so out of control that the governemnt will have to Nuke private labs.

Re:What difference does it make? (1)

elwell642 (754833) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266698)

Good point. I'd much rather die of radioactive fallout than nanoparticles.

Re:What difference does it make? (1)

untaken_name (660789) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266881)

There is probably some privately funded lab somewhere doing all sorts of research.

You don't say?

Where's the new risk? (2, Interesting)

romit_icarus (613431) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266708)

The need to formulate a new risk category sounds a bit alarmist to me. Nanotechnology is not something dramatically new. It usually means more specific and smart pharma drugs. The physical nano micro-machines that were envisaged when the term was propelled into vogue, have not yet taken off!

To me that's pretty much old risk.

notorious warnings (3, Interesting)

khallow (566160) | more than 10 years ago | (#9266871)

Swiss Re is notorious for these sorts of warnings. Think of it as the "you don't have enough insurance" warnings. They do the same thing with global warming.

I, for one (2, Funny)

std deviant (782821) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267072)

Welcome our new gray goo overlords. And, i might add, as a longhaired geek, that I have some influence over the chattering masses and can be useful in calming the populous.

Litigation, insurance and business (2, Insightful)

PerlMonkey (323967) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267497)

There is a very serious downside to this, stemming indirectly from our current litiginous climate. Basically, if the insurance companies refuse to cover something it is effectively illegal due to many existing requirements for insurance.

It's like having a rottweiler in a house - sure it's legal, but you can't get insurance for the house, which means you can't get a mortgage, which means you can't buy a house unless you pay for it out of pocket...so it may as well be illegal for you to have a rottweiler.

One might say that this is just free market at work, yet there are aspects of goverment regulation here which underpin the system - like allowing lawsuits against uninvited people entering your property and being bitten.

Likewise, we'll see that unless the goverment idemnifies the nanotechnology companies (small chance of that) they will be unable to enter the field even though there is no formal prohibition against nanotechnology manufacturing.

Re:Litigation, insurance and business (1)

shakah (78118) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267998)

It's like having a rottweiler in a house - sure it's legal, but you can't get insurance for the house, which means you can't get a mortgage, which means you can't buy a house unless you pay for it out of pocket...so it may as well be illegal for you to have a rottweiler.
Reading that, what I really see is "I can't get insurance *at a price that's acceptable to me*" and or "I can't get insurance *in a convenient manner*".

I'm certain you can get insurance in almost all situations. It is true that due to problems quantifying the risks/exposures or finding underwriters you might have to deal with special-purpose companies (e.g. Lloyds of London ?) whose costs far exceed those of the mass-market companies (e.g. Prudential, Liberty Mutual, etc.).

But, after all, if sports stars can insure their bodies & actresses can insure their legs, surely you can find someone to offer you homeowner's insurance?

Insurance as a check for captalism? (3, Interesting)

kabocox (199019) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267638)

I don't like the idea of insurance as a check on anything. Of course I've always thought of insurance as a scam that everyone has to buy because of government laws rather or not they really want it.

Think car insurance. Were people required by law to own horse insurance or mule insurance when those were the methods of transporation? I don't think so. Now, every one is required by law, to own a min. of car insurance.

If you buy a house now, most people will have to get a mortgage. Almost every bank requires you to get insurance on that house.

Insurance companies are around to make a profit. I don't believe that they are a good check for anything.

How long until it is required by law that every citizen must be paying for health insurance, life insurance and lawyer insurance or be put in jail?

Re:Insurance as a check for captalism? (1)

shakah (78118) | more than 10 years ago | (#9268301)

How long until it is required by law that every citizen must be paying for health insurance, life insurance and lawyer insurance or be put in jail?
The future may be here already (in the US, anyway) -- Medicaire and Medicaid, and to a lesser extent Social Security, come pretty close to legally-mandated versions of health insurance and life insurance.

Poorly researched (4, Informative)

bradbury (33372) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267645)

While it is fine for the insurance industry to want to protect itself it would be better if they actually did quality research. Citing the ETC group or Greenpeace as references seems to suggest a distinctly European bias (Oh no lets avoid technology progress as that would ruin our little socialistic state... It is the same argument that they have invoked against genetic technologies).

In fact they fail to reference, meaning they probably have not read, the three concrete references on nanotechnology. They are respectively works by Robert Freitas: Nanomedicine Vol. IIA: Biocompatibility [amazon.com] , Nanomedicine Vol. I: Basic capabilities [amazon.com] and Drexler's Nanosystems [amazon.com] . It is worth keeping in mind that all of these are college level textbooks and the popular press and/or the authors of corporate press releases may not bother to read them (unfortunately).

Any published reports that do not cite these resources (or at least cite sources that cite these resources) can reasonably be assumed to have little or no understanding of nanotechnology and nanomedicine.

Freitas deals extensively with the biocompatibility problem in Nanomedicine Vol. IIA. and if you do not see a detailed analysis of this volume (which is several hundred pages, extensively referenced) in an insurance risk analysis then that analysis is either misinformed or incomplete. On top of that an insurance analysis should deal with the potential benefits of nanotechnology which include extending the human lifespan to several thousand years. There is no analysis for the insurance industry of the reduced payments for life insurance due to the benefits of the technology. I.e. there is no comparison of the potential downside vs. the potential upside.

I would suggest that SwissRe has failed to do a complete job in its analysis.

Product Liability Fears Kill Planet Film at 11:00 (4, Interesting)

Crashmarik (635988) | more than 10 years ago | (#9267775)

Inovations who needs it, things are perfect as they are. If anything goes wrong somebodys responsible and it sure isnt the VICTIM.

I can't even begin to describe how disheartening this kind of story is. Asbestos was bad enough, Cigarretes were even more rediculous, but this truly demonstrates the pernicious and destructive effects product liablility lawyers have on society.

What I wan't to know is when I am going to be able to sue liability lawyers for damages done due to the absence of technologies they have blocked. Sorry sir those Amyloid plaques that are causing your alzheimers could be cleaned but the drugs couldn't be made because lawsuit fears. Sorry madam your child starved to death because of fears about GM foods. Sorry your fireproofing cost three times what it should have because we couldn't use asbestos anymore.

The insurer have taken a gutless though correct position. As long as the courts are willing to turn someones tragedy into a lawyers lottery ticket, As long as they are willing to hold inventors liable for things they didn't and in principle couldn't know, it will be folly for insurers to write liability insurance for any kind of new product.

Evil KISS members. (2, Funny)

GPLDAN (732269) | more than 10 years ago | (#9268328)

Without proper legislation, Gene Simmons could turn into an evil scientist who uses tiny robots to hatch an evil plan to destroy the world's oil supply and bankrupt the World Bank. Then we'd need an overweight Tom Selleck to save us!
Load More Comments
Slashdot Login

Need an Account?

Forgot your password?

Submission Text Formatting Tips

We support a small subset of HTML, namely these tags:

  • b
  • i
  • p
  • br
  • a
  • ol
  • ul
  • li
  • dl
  • dt
  • dd
  • em
  • strong
  • tt
  • blockquote
  • div
  • quote
  • ecode

"ecode" can be used for code snippets, for example:

<ecode>    while(1) { do_something(); } </ecode>