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Should Nanotech Be Regulated?

Zonk posted more than 9 years ago | from the microfabrication dept.

Science 403

Memorize writes "Josh Wolfe writes an article in Forbes arguing that it is too early to regulate nanotech. Wolfe is worried that the 'green gang' (his term for environmentalists) are going to regulate nanotech out of existence before the technology even works in the lab. It seems like much of the discussion of nanotech is hype, including the potential benefits, such as immortality and the potential dangers such as grey goo. However, nanotech does hold some promise of environmental benefits such as cheap solar power. Are the risks real, and if so, is it worth the risk?" From the article: "There are rumblings that regulations are needed. They say they want to guarantee the safety of the technology and instill confidence in the general public."

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Nanotech Inspector (5, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166626)

I wanted to be a nanotech inspector, but I failed the eye exam.

Re:Nanotech Inspector (4, Funny)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166777)

The moderators' sense of humor must qualify as nanotech...

Re:Nanotech Inspector (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166828)

I modded you down because you forgot to yell 'Frist Post!'

Green gang can stuff it (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166629)

'nuff said...

Nanotubes (3, Insightful)

Rei (128717) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166633)

Well, given that CNTs seem to be a perfect size to get lodged in the lungs, I wouldn't want the industry to be exposing itself to an asbestos-style situation.

Regulating soot (2, Informative)

DaleBob (676487) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166755)

CNTs and buckyballs are just forms of soot. You can find them in any fireplace. So whatever regulations are on soot emissions to the atmosphere, they should be applied to CNTs as well.

Re:Regulating soot (2, Insightful)

timster (32400) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166834)

Cyanide is just a form of baryonic matter. You can find it in any apricot. So whatever regulations are on feeding people apricots, they should also be applied to feeding people cyanide.

Come on, you can't possibly be serious.

Re:Regulating soot (1)

thiophene (216836) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166876)

He is serious. The way you many carbon nanotubes are made is by burning graphite.

Re:Regulating soot (1)

thiophene (216836) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166911)

The way many nanotubes are made is by burning graphite.

That will teach me to not preview before submitting.

Re:Regulating soot (1)

XFilesFMDS1013 (830724) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166945)

That will teach me to not preview before submitting.

It's okay, you're on /. You're not SUPPOSED to preview your posts.

Re:Regulating soot (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166921)

This isn't really true - and it's not all that difficult to understand. Nanotech substances are (get this) very small! They're so small in fact that if you put some nano-dust on your skin, it will go right through it into your blood! Last time I cleanded out my fireplace my pee didn't turn black. Believe it or not, the spooks are interested in nanotech for the simple reason that you can get nasty things into people blood just by getting them to touch some powder.

Too late. (4, Informative)

abb3w (696381) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166869)

I recall seeing a citation that many firms (especially outside the US) were using the health and materials safety data for graphite for CNTs, since nothing specific for carbon nanotubes existed. I've found at least one CNT data sheet [yahoo.com] online, but therein the phrase "TO THE BEST OF OUR KNOWLEDGE, THE CHEMICAL, PHYSICAL, AND TOXICOLOGICAL PROPERTIES HAVE NOT BEEN THOROUGHLY INVESTIGATED" raises alarm bells for me at least.

Nanomaterials are weird. Gold metal and even sub-hair thin wires are fairly inert; but nanodivide it, and it becomes highly reactive and much more toxic than lead. And we're putting nanocrystal zinc oxide into sunscreens these days. I'll use it anyway-- with my skin and family history, melanoma is the bigger risk. But nanomaterials exposure is already happening.

Re:Too late. (1, Insightful)

youngerpants (255314) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166932)

products such as Sulphiric Acid haver been thoroughly investigated, and apparently its pretty bad for us... much worse than CNT's or Asbestos. Its still used a lot in industry though.


One day, politicians/ regulatory bodies are going to find a happy medum between FUD and ignorance.

Wide Societal Debate (4, Interesting)

ALeavitt (636946) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166637)

From TFA:
"There needs to be a wide societal debate informing and underpinning government decisions, and this can't be confined to technical issues alone. It would be a mistake to attempt to sideline this discussion to a group of experts..."

Great thinking. Let's take the debate out of the hands of the people who know what they're talking about, and put it firmly in the hands of John Q. Public. "But I read a book about nanotechnology, and these swarms of tiny robots killed people. Won't somebody think of the children?"
I'm not saying that it's a mistake to involve society at large in a matter like this, but experts' opinions are going to be the most well-informed, and therefore the most valuable. People who know nothing about nanotechnology except for the fact that a manufactured particle can damage the environment just don't know as much about the issue as people who have been studying nanotechnology for years. The public's opinion can easily be swayed by politicians with hidden agendas, and somehow I doubt that scientific advancement will win out against mass panic and sentimentalism. What we need are some honest, unbiased reports of the pros and cons of nanotechnology: where it's headed, how it could help us, how it could harm us, and what the cost will be. Instead we'll have a mob of people going off half-cocked and writing their senators because them thar robots are goin' take over, and you cain't even see 'um. Give authority to the people who have earned it; they're the ones who will know the right thing to do with it.

Re:Wide Societal Debate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166678)

The fascinating thing is that the "green gang" seems to want to research the technology out of existance. Environmental impact studies of this and that. Millions of dollars to see what happens when a particle gets into your lungs, and so on.

It's not like this is something new, we've been dealing with particulate pollution since before the beginning of the industrial age.

Re:Wide Societal Debate (1)

anagama (611277) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166775)


  • t's not like this is something new, we've been dealing with particulate pollution since before the beginning of the industrial age.

We've been dealing with particulate polution a lot longer than that. Imagine the particulate levels inside a cave with a fire burning, or any other structure with a fire pit and a hole in the ceiling as a heating/cooking system. People have been affected by particulate polution all the way back to the romantic dawn of time (so to speak).

Re:Wide Societal Debate (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166750)

You mean, just like how genetically modified foods was handled?

This stuff now pervades many aspects of our everyday eating habits, yet I can't find out about it, and I don't know the risks or benefits.

The "people who know what they're talking about" are often people firmly entrenched in companies that are out to make a buck, and are possibly more than willing (as history has proven) to ignore potential dangers in that quest. Do you trust Monsanto to tell you the god's honest truth about GM foods?

The biggest problem here was that there was next-to-no public debate about it. These companies are even resisting a requirement to label foods as GM foods! This is ridiculous! It eventually comes down to individual choice, so it makes more sense to get involved sooner rather than later.

The more this is done under public scrutiny, the more we can verify that companies or special interest groups are not bribing or unduly influencing public officials. Or do you think it's a wise idea to have accounting crooks shaping national energy policies behind closed doors to suit their own motives?

Re:Wide Societal Debate (5, Insightful)

mthaddon (580045) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166914)

Too right.

"Leave the regulation to the industry who knows it best" - er, hello, conflict of interest anyone?

I don't want to regulate new technology out of existence, but at the same time, I don't want lack of regulation allowing big corps to go ahead and do exactly what they want without any accountability and/or assessment of the risks.

We're not talking about regulating scientists here, we're talking about regulating corporations.

Re:Wide Societal Debate (2, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166783)

The quote is not actually advocating taking the debate out of the hands of experts and putting it into the hands of anyone who feels like contributing. The quote is advocating bringing additional experts from other areas into the debate. In other words, as the quote states, the debate "can't be confined to technical issues alone", or even "to only focus on environmental and health issues". The quote is saying "let's look at this from all angles". It is not saying "let's let any moron decide and ignore the experts".

Re:Wide Societal Debate (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166784)

Agreed. "A good decision is based on knowledge and not on numbers." -Socrates

Re:Wide Societal Debate (4, Funny)

WidescreenFreak (830043) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166789)

Or even worse ...

"I saw that Star Trek episode where two nanites had sex and reproduced like rabbits! They had to shoot the computer! And then they, like, started talkin' and stuff, and that dude had to apologize.. Well, shit, I ain't wanna apologize to some sex-maniac robots who want to take over my computer! No way, man! None of this nanotechnology for me! I don't wanna shoot my 'puter neither!

I saw it on TV, so it's gotta be true!"

Re:Wide Societal Debate (4, Insightful)

hey! (33014) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166859)

Great thinking. Let's take the debate out of the hands of the people who know what they're talking about, and put it firmly in the hands of John Q. Public.

I for one won't welcome our new technocratic overlords.

People who know nothing about nanotechnology except for the fact that a manufactured particle can damage the environment just don't know as much about the issue as people who have been studying nanotechnology for years.

True. But people who are promoters of the technology can't be entrusted with decsions that affect society as a whole either. Even "experts" in nanotechnology aren't necessarily experts in environmental impact. They aren't necessarily experts in human health. The problem when it comes to assessing widespread commercialization of a technology like this becomes interdisciplinary. Who will enforce that this debate takes place? Mr. Special Interest pushing against unwashed John Q. Public who is whipped into a frenzy by Snidely Politician, Esq.

If you want a better system, do something for your local elementary school, shake, stir, then wait twenty years and hope things turn out beter.

I'm not saying that it's a mistake to involve society at large in a matter like this, but experts' opinions are going to be the most well-informed, and therefore the most valuable.

Well, I'm not sure what you propose then.

The fact is, venal politicians will try to sieze on an issue one way or the other. The answer is not to discourage debate, but to encourage more of it. The power of the "opinion makers" to convince society of all kinds of malarkey doesn't come from vigorous public debate, but the lack of it.

Re:Wide Societal Debate (1)

r4bb1t (663244) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166900)

"Give authority to the people who have earned it; they're the ones who will know the right thing to do with it."

[sarcasm]Because we all know that those in authority have always earned it and are always best informed.[/sarcasm] I agree that for the most part the experts in the field will be the most well informed. What you do is have them write that "honest, unbiased reports of the pros and cons of nanotechnology" and then give that to John Q. Public to let him discuss the issue. You can't (well... shouldn't, I guess) get around asking John (at least in this country), since his tax dollars pay the bills of the senators/etc. that represent him.

Besides, just because you are the technical authority on the matter doesn't then automatically make you the moral authority on the matter.

Where's the beef? (3, Insightful)

MillionthMonkey (240664) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166954)

Is this really a problem? Has anyone really been calling for the regulation of nanotech?

The only evidence he offers is that people were worrying that buckyballs might cause cancer, and the NSF is funding toxicity studies. And the British are also interested in studying nanoparticle toxicity. So what?

But he also offers this, from the same source from which he gets his scary "wide societal debate" quote:
Also the ETC (an action group on Erosion, Technology and Concentration)--the same group that had lobbied against Monsanto's (nyse: MON - news - people ) genetically engineered crops in the 1990s--has called for nothing less than a moratorium on the use of synthetic nanoparticles in the lab and in commercial products.
So a small Canadian corporate watchdog group [etcgroup.org] with an unsuccessful record of opposing biotech holds an extreme position on nanotechnology. Oooh, I'm scared!

This link found in the article is rather telling:
Special Offer: Get in on the ground floor of a growth industry still in its infancy. Click here for a complete list of stocks in Josh Wolfe's "Nanosphere" portfolio and for up-and-coming private companies.
With your subscription for the special introductory price of only $195 (a 67% discount off the cover price), you will receive 12 monthly hard-copy issues of the author's Nanotech Report delivered right to your door. No doubt each issue will be filled with screeching about nonexistent political threats to nanotechnology from powerful Canadians.

Re:Wide Societal Debate (1)

deego (587575) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166960)

> Great thinking. Let's take the debate out of the hands of the people who know what they're talking about

I think that even though experts really know what they are talking about, they are sometimes too biased in favor of their dream, too biased to step back and think more objectively.

When they were first testing nuclear bombs, scientist and Govt decided to go ahead, even though people as distinguished as Fermi at that time wondered whether a nuclear bomb would ignite the atmosphere. Just ponder the gravity of this. The science of that time didn't know (fully, let's call it 99%) whether or the atmosphere will ignite, wiping out ALL humanity, yet they went ahead. I bet, if the debate were opened up and these doubts not hidden, there would have been atleast some more consideration of this issue. Would you rather prefer a loss in war for your favored party over a 1% chance of all humanity dying out? No matter how much I hate Hitler, I will choose the former when I think objectively about this.

If you will Just bear with me on this: Over 5 billion years, life has evolved on this planet, and is now all set to create beautiful augmentations, from machine-intelligence, to nanotech to manipulating its own genes. Would you rather that they take 5billion+10 years time to make sure it is done right without any risks of losing it all, or would you rather that they take this last step ASAP, even if it carries a risk of wiping out ALL the work of the last 5 billion years?

I am no luddite, I love tech, but treading carefully over unchartered territory only makes sense to me. I also agree with the argument "If we, the good guys don't do it NOW, the evil Germans will get there first!". Yet, there is no huge urgency when you really look at the point of view from the entire human race, and there really are no "evil Germans" today.

Re:Wide Societal Debate (3, Insightful)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166978)

Having trained as an engineer, I can tell you that every independent review system is designed to do preciesly that.

Einstein once said "You don't really understand something until you can explain it to your grandmother."

If the techies can't put it in layman's terms, they don't understand the material well enough themselves. And considering that the people who have to live in the world with this stuff ARE John and Jane Q. Public, if you don't want them showing up at your doorstep with pitchforks and torches, you need their buy in early.

If a technology is safe and effective, consumer resistance is as long as their attention span. The technology will be used, it may just be 20 years later.

Wow (0)

TheKidWho (705796) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166646)

People really tend to over exagerate the problems with new technologies. By now we should have had multiple nuclear wars, would have extreme shortages of food, would have way too large of a population, would be all dying from pollution, would no thave enough oxygen to breathe from all the trees we cut down, blah blah blah.

Gimme a break folks and do your science.

Re:Wow (1)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166674)

Don't forget that either we should be suffering from another global ice age with everyone under ice, or drowning under 300 feet of water.

Re:Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166677)

Yea, just ask the Japanese, or the Allies in the trenches of WW1.

JK

Re:Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166730)

If the potential problems hadn't been exagerated, they could easily have come true in many cases. Raising warnings like that draws attention to potential issues so the risks can be minimized.

Attempting to regulate due to such extreme concerns isn't the answer.

Re:Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166814)

I'd rather be over-cautious than under-cautious.

Re:Wow (4, Insightful)

foobsr (693224) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166919)

Gimme a break folks and do your science.

By now we should have had multiple nuclear wars

The worst case scenario was "nuclear winter" which implied one game only.

would have extreme shortages of food

Developing Countries ... [elca.org]

# 815 million people are undernourished
# 1.2 billion people live on less than $1/day
# 153 million children under age 5 are underweight
* 11 million children under age 5 die every year, over half of hunger-related causes
# 1 in 6 people is hungry
# 1 in 4 people lacks safe drinking water

would be all dying from pollution

Europe's children dying from pollution [ehn-online.com]

would no thave enough oxygen to breathe

Decreased oxygen content in the atmosphere--an ecological disaster imperceptibly sneaking up? [nih.gov]

Gimme a break folks and do your science.

Well.

CC.

Re:Wow (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166939)

People really tend to over exagerate the problems with new technologies. By now we should have had multiple nuclear wars, would have extreme shortages of food, would have way too large of a population, would be all dying from pollution, would no thave enough oxygen to breathe from all the trees we cut down, blah blah blah.

Umm all these things have come true to an extent. Nuclear fallout from both WWII and nuclear energy plants as well as weapons testing has destroyed huge land masses.

Extreme food shortages exists toady in many parts of the world. (although obviously not your parents basement). People are starving to death every day.

The population is "way to large" in many parts of the world driving people to live with poor air quality and stacked like sardines. Look at the living situation in Tokyo for example.

Air pollution wipes out numerous species every year. Eventually the biological effects of this will be felt as the damage moves up the food chain.

Look at Mexico city and LA for example. People are getting sick from just breathing. I think the deforestation and damage it causes is in full effect.

There is no need to wait until doomsday to realize we need to make changes. If we do then at that point it will be too late.

Regulation (3, Insightful)

jmartens (721229) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166648)

The problem with regulation of nearly anything is it only stops honest people. Usually, the people that weren't going to do anything wrong in the first place.

Re:Regulation (2, Interesting)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166759)

The problem with regulation of nearly anything is it only stops honest people. Usually, the people that weren't going to do anything wrong in the first place.

You also have to question the legitimacy and intentions of the regulators, as he's alluding to, sort of. In the broad sense, everyone is entitled to it. Better to allow everyone to have the stuff and treat them fairly, than withhold it and waste intelligence resources (and more) trying to stem its spread.

Regulation-Anarchist Market. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166942)

"The problem with regulation of nearly anything is it only stops honest people. Usually, the people that weren't going to do anything wrong in the first place."

Conclusion: A society without rules is best, because a society with rules is impossible.

Yes. (3, Funny)

Seumas (6865) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166651)

In America, everything should be regulated. What are you - some sort of godlesss pink commie?

Re:Yes. (1)

Clay Pigeon -TPF-VS- (624050) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166707)

Wanting the anarchic panopticon as you do makes you seem as if you are more of the authoritarian communist than the majority of /.ers.

Where's that nasty Green Gang? (5, Insightful)

October_30th (531777) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166655)

The last thing it needs is a "societal debate" and intense government scrutiny. How can you intelligently discuss and regulate something that is still in the discovery and development stage, before it really exists in a practical manufacturing sense?

Heh. This article is nothing but yet another libertarian call for unlimited dog-eat-dog capitalism. Then again, what else can you expect from Forbes?

Of course anything that has as monumental potential consequences as nanotech needs at least proper societal debate -- even when it's still in discovery and development stage. What are we going to do if the promises and nightmares come true? Furthermore, in the case of nanotech we would not only need government scrutiny but international governmental scrutiny and control. You don't have to be a greenie to realize that.

The fact that the people doing the debate do not understand the scientific details has nothing to do with their eligibility to participate in the debate. We already have referendums concerning whether we should build new fission plants and a perfectly valid argument against such a plant is: I don't want nuclear waste buried in my backyard for my grandchildren to take care of. You don't have to be a nuclear scientist to have something meaningful to say in a sociological/political sense. The same goes for nanotech.

So why is this guy saying that we shouldn't have public discussion (not referendums, mind you) about such a revolutionary technology as nanotech? Because it makes the profitmongering more difficult. That's why. The part of the article that I quoted above summarizes the attitude of the author perfectly: "shut up, shut up, shut up - I can make a lot of money with this, so you've better shut up about anything negative we might face when developing nanotech".

And where is that nasty Green Gang anyway? All sources I can see him quoting are respectable research organizations like the British Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering. If his beef is with scientists who're capable of thinking green in any other context than a dollar bill, he's the one who's risking the nanotech revolution.

Mod parent up (0)

MyLongNickName (822545) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166694)

Troll does not mean "I disagree".

Re:Where's that nasty Green Gang? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166731)

Oh yes, that dog-eat-dog stuff that gave us electicity, science, medicine, etc. Can't have any of that.

Go back and hit your books. Read up on Adam Smith a bit and then come back and play. In a capitalistic society, individuals taking control over their own destiny more times than not advance the general well being. The market rewards the greater good. Geesh. This is simple stuff.

Re:Where's that nasty Green Gang? (1)

October_30th (531777) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166799)

Read up on Adam Smith a bit and then come back and play.

Your faith in the markets is touching, but your false dichotomy and appeal to authority remain unconvincing.

It's not like we're forced to choose between two extremes: a dog-eat-dog capitalism or an oppressive communist planned economy.

Re:Where's that nasty Green Gang? (1, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166827)

Once the federal gummint stops handing out monopolies to big players like candy to obese children, I'll agree that there's some self-regulating free market & that your argument holds. At the moment, there isn't much evidence of this.

Even then, your argument ignores obvious problems like asbestos-style "mistakes" in employee safety. The market doesn't protect employees and I think it's a gov't responsibility to do so. Before you start ranting about labor unions, I'm not talking about that - I'm simply talking about gross willful physical abuse of workers which the market has no selective pressure to abate. Employers may have the right to cull employees based on competence, &c., but damned if they have the right to endanger the lives and physical wellbeing of their employees. The decision between a productive living and your physical health has no place in a civilized society, with the exception of its military force.

Re:Where's that nasty Green Gang? (1)

Doctor Faustus (127273) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166810)

a perfectly valid argument against such a plant is: I don't want nuclear waste buried in my backyard for my grandchildren to take care of.

I'm sorry, but NIMBY is not a valid argument.

Re:Where's that nasty Green Gang? (1, Interesting)

October_30th (531777) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166864)

Well, of course it is - politically - and that's what matters (or should matter, anyway) when it comes to high-impact decisions like this.

Such an argument might not be logical, it might not be reasonable, but the opinion should be counted nevertheless. If there's enough of them, then so be it. Otherwise we end up with a scientific elite dictating what's best for everyone else and, as a scientist, I for one wouldn't want to see that.

Re:Where's that nasty Green Gang? (1)

soupdevil (587476) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166898)

NIMBY can be a valid argument -- if nobody wants it in their back yard, perhaps we need to find a better way to build it, or increase the local value until someone does want it in their back yard.

Re:Where's that nasty Green Gang? (2, Interesting)

Twanfox (185252) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166915)

Why is it not a valid argument? If there is some major reason why you wouldn't want to have it nearby you, then perhaps the root of that desire has some merit. Such as: Disposition of nuclear waste is a major concern, and if it is improperly disposed of near residential areas, it could poison and kill off the local environment. If you don't want to live next to it, then that concern should be addressed in a sane fashion before the process continues.

It is the irrational or unfounded 'NIMBY' responses to an issue that aren't valid arguments.

Re:Where's that nasty Green Gang? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166858)

whether we should build new fission plants and a perfectly valid argument against such a plant is: I don't want nuclear waste buried in my backyard for my grandchildren to take care of.

You call that perfectly valid? Of course you would, you know jack shit about the subject. You don't know that for decades now there have been re-enrichment processes that can recycle most of the "waste" products back into material suitable for use in a normal reactor again with very little leftover waste. The reason we don't do this is because that same reactor design can keep going past the reactor-fuel level up into the nuclear-weapon-material level, and if someone forgot to turn it off at the right time, it would be "bad" (according to the treaties we pretend to obey anyway. Any guesses on where the US is getting its new nuclear warhead material?). And produce energy doing it. You'll probably cite supercritical reactor accidents next despite the fact that modern pebble bed reactors address the issue by breaking the fuel up into pebbles that, by themselves, can't sustain a reaction. Then when the containment is breached, they're sent scattered across the reactor floor where you end up with quickly cooling bits of uranium waiting for someone in a suit to sweep up.

You're right about the libertarian tripe though, but saying that the public should have a say first requires that the public be properly educated (and by that, I mean with the real truth, not the version thats spinning so fast it generates electricity all by itself).

Re:Where's that nasty Green Gang? (0)

October_30th (531777) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166953)

Actually, being a physicist, I do know quite a lot of the properties of radioactive materials and radioactivity. Also, being a greenie, I've read plenty about reactor design and safety and personally I think fission is an acceptable energy source -- for the time being.

But my point was: you don't have to have a PhD in nuclear physics to have valid opinions on sociological and political aspects of such decisions. That's not democratic. If a granny fears for the safety of her grandchildren, because there's going to be a fission plant next door, then so be it. She should be heard and she should have one vote to cast -- just like the nuclear physicist/engineer living across the street.

In a democracy we end up making irrational and stupid decisions because of this, but I strongly believe that in the long run the system is self-healing.

Re:Where's that nasty Green Gang? (4, Insightful)

revscat (35618) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166895)

So why is this guy saying that we shouldn't have public discussion (not referendums, mind you) about such a revolutionary technology as nanotech? Because it makes the profitmongering more difficult. That's why. The part of the article that I quoted above summarizes the attitude of the author perfectly: "shut up, shut up, shut up - I can make a lot of money with this, so you've better shut up about anything negative we might face when developing nanotech".

Exactly. The belief that the market will take care of everything bad all by its lonesome is just asinine. It's religious in a way: the market is perfect and holy, and the government is evil and wicked. It's stupid mainly because it is so grossly simplistic.

Just because money is to be made at something doesn't mean that it is risk-free or unworthy of regulation. This is a potentially very dangerous technology. Examining that and working towards prevention of abuse is just the wise thing to do. If it is possible for someone to use nanotech to make machines that present a realistic threat to the general population, then by all means we can and should look at taking legal steps to prevent such abuse.

The free market is great, except when it isn't.

Re:Where's that nasty Green Gang? (1)

thefirelane (586885) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166916)

The fact that the people doing the debate do not understand the scientific details has nothing to do with their eligibility to participate in the debate.

Still hold that opinion when it comes to evolution, or just when its convenient for your agenda?

everyone should be concerned (1)

Bob Bitchen (147646) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166656)

Once people understand the implications and the power behind the technology and they still aren't concerned that it could have profound good and bad consequences for all life here then that's proof that it needs to be controlled. But can it be controlled? I don't think so. Let the nano-wars begin!

Re:everyone should be concerned (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166767)

Ya, I'm thinking that immortality would *not* be a benefit after a while. Especially if everyone wanted it.

Questionable... (4, Insightful)

TripMaster Monkey (862126) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166662)

From the article:


Last March, a report released by an environmental toxicologist at Southern Methodist University showed that Fullerenes--the soccer ball shaped carbon nanoparticles also known as Buckyballs--caused brain damage in fish.


However, an earlier report has shown conclusively that just about any substance will cause brain damage in fish, provided that enough of said substance is introduced into their little brain cases.

Seriously, though...just how much fullerene was used in this study? From www.nanomedicine.com:


Pure fullerenes are fairly chemically inert. They are stable substances in air or in solution and can be purified by sublimation without decomposition. Unmodified fullerenes are virtually insoluble in water, suggesting a low reactivity with biological tissue.


I really sympathize with the hippie tree-huggers....honestly, I do. My personal opinion is that all industry should eventually be moved offplanet, and the earth itself converted into one big park. But that goal's quite a ways off, and without important technologies like nanotech, we simply aren't going to make it. These Luddite environmentalists who foam at the mouth at the mention of every new technology, and attempt to instill the same irrational, knee-jerk mentality in the general populace are not helping their species, or Mother Earth. Another point in their disfavor: every prohibition simply creates another underground. There's big money to be made in nanotech, and if people can't do it legally, they'll do it illegally, and I'm betting that the people who are bold enough to disregard the regulations won't really put too much thought...not to mention funds...into safety.

Re:Questionable... (1)

Coolmoe (416032) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166823)

"There's big money to be made in nanotech, and if people can't do it legally, they'll do it illegally, and I'm betting that the people who are bold enough to disregard the regulations won't really put too much thought...not to mention funds...into safety."

Well thats fine then we can throw thier asses in prison where we put law breakers. Freeze thier assets for cleanup of the "lab".

Grey Goo? (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166673)

I don't know, anything that is two letters short of an alcohol isn't all bad in my book.

yes! (5, Funny)

bcrowell (177657) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166684)

I also propose regulation of:
  1. flying cars
  2. artificial intelligences that pass the Turing test
  3. cures for the common cold
  4. concealed laser pistols
  5. faster-than-light travel.
I think the need for #1, for example, should be obvious -- I'm amazed that nobody's been killed yet, considering the complete lack of traffic regulations. And re #5, according to special relativity, any faster-than-light drive also allows time travel, which has obvious potential for use by terrorists -- surprising they haven't used it yet, given the complete lack of government oversight.

Re:yes! (2, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166772)

But what's the reason for #3?

Re:yes! (1)

revscat (35618) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166825)

But what's the reason for #3?

Snake oil salesmen and abuse. If you claim some drug does something, you must be able to prove it. Similarly, while it may in fact cure the cold, it shouldn't cause fungus to grow out of your nose. Both are classes where the law is used to great benefit.

Re:yes! (2, Funny)

isotope23 (210590) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166924)

Think of the damage to the cold-remedy industry!!!

Your priority list is messed up. (2, Insightful)

abb3w (696381) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166935)

Time travel itself should be at the head of the list by a long way. To misquote Varley [amazon.com] :

Time travel is so dangerous it makes H-bombs seem like perfectly safe gifts for children and imbeciles. With a bomb, what's the worst that can happen? A few million people die. With time travel, we can wipe out the entire universe.

Oh, and flying cars are covered under the FAA rules, as I recall.

Re:yes! (1)

null etc. (524767) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166961)

you forgot to mention:

6. time travel

or maybe you did, and somebody travelled backwards through time and erased it!

Regulation will only slow things down (1)

havaloc (50551) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166687)

With all the promises of nanotech, regulation will only slow down development. Not a good idea.

Re:Regulation will only slow things down (1)

tomstdenis (446163) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166696)

Quite the contrary. The more red tape there is the more organized, fluid and stable the process will become. /sarcasm

Tom

Re:Regulation will only slow things down (2, Funny)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166805)

So we need regulations! Otherwise, it will happen like in AI, where some time it turned out that all the promises we were given never were fulfilled, and the actual achievements of AI are much less. Therefore heavy regulations are necessary, so when the promises can't be fulfilled, you can just blame the over-regulation instead of having to admit that you were just over-optimistic.

Hold on a minute (0)

dfn5 (524972) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166690)

Wait while I book passage off this rock.... OK, you are now free to destroy the planet. See ya.

Nah (3, Funny)

Neil Blender (555885) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166708)

The industry is too small to need to be regulated.

The greens ask for an outright ban? (4, Interesting)

Ironsides (739422) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166712)

the same group that had lobbied against Monsanto's genetically engineered crops in the 1990s--has called for nothing less than a moratorium on the use of synthetic nanoparticles in the lab and in commercial products.

So before we even know even a fraction of the possible benifits and dangers, they wan't an outright ban on anything that would let us find out what the good or bad is? Banning it from commercial products means it doesn't get used in anything, banning it from the lab means we won't ever find out more on it until the moratorium is lifted. Which probably wouldn't happen until we found out more about it. Catch-22.

Re:The greens ask for an outright ban? (2, Insightful)

maxwell demon (590494) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166941)

Indeed, a moratorium in the lab is about the stupidest thing you could do. Especially if those things can be dangerous, you do certainly want to know about the dangers before e.g. some terrorist supporters find out and you get hit unprepared. And if those things turn out to be harmless, well, there's no reason not to use them in the lab.

So banning it from the lab is wrong if it can be dangerous, and is wrong if it cannot be dangerous. Therefore it's always wrong.

Of course, if there were some unmanagable danger, things would be different. But why should nanotech be more dangerous than e.g. highly infectious bacteria (which labs obviously can handle quite fine)? Propably the opposite would be the case.

And no, I don't believe in grey goo.

If you want to be frightened... (1)

Sketch2 (678894) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166713)

Read Prey by Michael Crichton. I've heard it said that the science in the story is not real, but it was one of the most frightening scifi stories that I've read.

smp

Nah.. (1)

EtherealStrife (724374) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166857)

This [amazon.com] is frightening.

bullshit article about non-existent problem (5, Insightful)

cahiha (873942) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166720)

There is no such thing as "nanotech". Nanotech was an unfulfilled pipe dream about "molecular assemblers" and the like. Of course, Wolfe is just trying to make money off the name as well; he is trying to present this as a brand new industry that is at risk of being stifled.

Because nanotech was such an abysmal failure, in order for people to save face and sell old research as new, the term has now been applied to traditional areas of material science and molecular biology. Whether those areas need to be regulated and how needs to be decided on a case-by-case basis.

For example, releasing new materials into the environment, in particular dusts and coatings that can turn into dust, should be subject to stricter regulations--whether "nanoengineered" or just chemical, that sort of thing is a health risk.

Molecular biology generally has regulations in place already; applying the moniker "nanotech" to molecular biology should not let companies or researchers evade those regulations.

More generally, however, I don't subscribe to the notion that a new industry (even if "nanotech" were a new industry rather than just good old chemistry and material science) should not be stifled; if it's potentially dangerous, of course, its growth should be stifled until we know how to mitigate the dangers.

Re:bullshit article about non-existent problem (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166792)

That's precicely the problem with this article. Like so many others, it uses "nanotech" as a field. Nanotech is not a field, it's just a bunch of little things.

As a materials engineer, there are various things of various scales to work with, and some of them are labeled in that scary "nano" area, for good reason: they are on the scale of nanometers.

The "nanotech" mentality is equivilent to suggesting that all technology which uses components of a certain size is dangerous.

Why not "megatech" bans? I'd sure hate to be crushed by some of that.

Re:bullshit article about non-existent problem (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166846)

Because nanotech was such an abysmal failure, in order for people to save face and sell old research as new, the term has now been applied to traditional areas of material science and molecular biology.

Absolutely, but if researchers and manufacturers are going to hype really, really fine particles as "nanotechnology", I don't have much sympathy when they're overregulated by people who think that "nanotechnology-based" Dockers pose an apocalyptic threat to humanity, not just some unfamiliar toxicity issues.

Green Gang (2)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166725)

'green gang' (his term for environmentalists)

He should learn some history, the Green Gang was the predecessor to the KMT, or Nationalist Chinese and was largely run by "Big Eared Tu" in the manner of organized crime with Chiang Kai-shek as his puppet.

Today's Nanotech is probably tomorrows equivilent to nuclear weapons. Who's to say who can and can't have it? The mighty leader of the free world?

New motto for Nanotech technology (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166732)


Nanotech
"What could possibly go wrong?"

Better yet: "What could possiblie go wrong?" (1)

spun (1352) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166890)

Hmm, that's the first thing that's ever gone wrong...

What good will regulation do? (5, Insightful)

starseeker (141897) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166742)

As the technology matures, it will become easier and easier to do virtually anything with nanotech. So, eventually, it will be abused. (Which I assume is what people are worried about.)

The question we SHOULD be asking is how can we develop nanotechnology in such a way as to make sure we can stop dangerous/malicious applications. Because they WILL happen. There are just too many people on this planet for any kind of control to succeed in general on such matters. I suspect in the end nanotechnology will become another kind of virus, and it will take something like nanoengineered biological defenses to stop them, which will have to be continually upgraded.

regulation just raised the cost of entry (0)

bmwm3nut (556681) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166756)

I think regulation is stupid right now. The real reason it's being proposed is to raise the cost of entry for small startups and let the big corporations take the tech all for themselves. That's not to say I'm against reasonable safeguards for the public, but it regulations should be done in a more general way. I believe an earlier post mentioned something about how nano particles are just the right size to be caught in the lungs and that this is similar to asbestos. Rather than having regluations for asbestos and nano particles, how about one broad regulation that says something like "no one is allowed to emit particles of size xx to yy in a concentration greater than zz blah blah blah" of course you could get more specific and say that the particles can't be emitted where there's a gathering of people or something like that. It's just a pet peeve that I have when people try to regulate things so specificly. Rather than regulating the technology, just regulate the effect.

do existing regulations cover this? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166761)

Suppose you're manufacturing buckytubes and buckyballs, decide you don't want them anymore, so dump them down the drain. And it turns out they poison fish. Do existing laws say you can't do that?

It would be good to have some law say you can't dump new-not-yet-specifically-named poisons down the drain or in the garbage.

It Depends (1)

sfjoe (470510) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166766)

Wolfe is worried that ...[environmentalists]... are going to regulate nanotech out of existence

It all depends on who will be making money off of it. If their are profits to be taken, public safety will have to take a back seat. If it threatens a current business' profits, "public safety" will be the rallying cry.
And, of course, the radical fundamentalists will somehow work "God's Law" into the whole debate.

I'll be the first to say it? (1)

ect5150 (700619) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166788)

In Russia, the Nanotechs regulate you!

The problem isn't what you think it is. (5, Insightful)

PxM (855264) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166806)

The major issue with nanotech in the next few decades won't be a grey goo problem or any other sci-fi apocalypse. The biggest problem will be the toxic garbage mentioned in the article. Self replicating nanobots are still in the distant (20+ years) future but the problem with nanoparticles exists now. Some of the artifical dust being created by the nanotech manufacturing processes is small enough to pass through the various safeguards that organisms have evolved to protect against the environment. Very few things in nature are self contained objects on a nanometer scale so organisms never had a chance to evolve protection against the things we are creating. There is a valid risk of a problem similar to asbestos related cancers and DDT if nanotech becomes widespread before the proper safeguards are in place. I fully support nanotech and do believe the grey goo fears are overstated, but toxic dust is something that people should figure out how to deal with before it becomes dangerous.

--
Want a free Nintendo DS, GC, PS2, Xbox. [freegamingsystems.com] (you only need 4 referrals)
Wired article as proof [wired.com]

Re:Solution to nano-dust: Nanotech (1)

Lord Bitman (95493) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166866)

Dont crush nano before it has a chance to create safegards against itself.

Striking a balance (1, Insightful)

fiannaFailMan (702447) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166824)

From TFA:
If you would like an example of how business can flourish in a largely unregulated environment, look at the changes to our lives that have occurred thanks to growth of the Internet. E-mail, VoIP, eBay and Google have greatly enhanced lives around the globe. What happens when there is too much regulation? Too often you wind up with tragic corporate sagas and employee fallout. Just look at what is happening to the airline business or to AT&T. Let's not throw a blanket over nanotech before it begins to blossom.
It's a fair point, but a more balanced article (minus the 'green gang' name-calling) would have also said that too little regulation can also be a bad thing. For example, the deregulation of the energy market in California was botched big time, and the energy consumers were gouged by the likes of Enron.

I'm sick of these thinly veiled propaganda pieces that take selective examples of private success and government failure to back up their market fundamentalist ideas.

Re:Striking a balance (1)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166912)

Hey, look what "deregulation" has done for the airlines. It used to be they made billions in profits. Today, taxpayers are "charged" billions in bailouts.

Changing the rules by which airlines ass rape the customer does not change the price of aircraft. the cost of fuel, or the fact that someone needs to pay to maintain airports and security.

What it did do is allow certain entities to push the cost off onto other entities.

I'm Feeling Lucky (2, Funny)

KipCas (872321) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166832)

What will be funny is when the "Grey Goo" ecophagy theory plays itsself out and the people at Google figure out a way to search the nanobots blanketing the earth and patent it. And yes, it will be called "Grey Goo-gle".

In a word: Yes (2, Insightful)

EvilTwinSkippy (112490) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166836)

There are plenty of examples where nanotech versions of certain chemicals behave in a radically different manner than conventional material.

Take carbon nanotubes. Companies allowed to treat it, according to OSHA standards, as graphite. Technically, yes, it is pure carbon. But there are some exotic, and potentially carcinogenic, reactions that nanotubes can create in the human body. Particularly when inhaled.

Erm (1)

t_allardyce (48447) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166838)

...including the potential benefits, such as immortality...

Immortality is NOT a benefit, not to yourself, and not to the world population.

Re:Erm (1)

defnshow (722272) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166880)

I would benefit from immortality as long as they don't give it to people with differnt opinions then me.

Save us now! (2, Funny)

null etc. (524767) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166863)

We absolutely have to regulate how nanotechnology is used. Think what would happen if spyware and malware authors got ahold of a few nanobots!

grey goo sounds a lot like cancer (1)

oneiron (716313) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166881)

I wonder what organ earth resides in.

You can't moderate the entire world (4, Insightful)

Kraemahz (847827) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166882)

Outright banning or heavily restricting a particular field of research is the fastest way to create a technological divide and be swept away by the pace of advancement, and at the rate it's going that means the country in discussion will be left in the dust in a handful of years.

You can't question the ethical nature of a technology itself and restrict it appropriately and also have progress. Would nuclear technology have advanced if they were worrying about the very long term consequences? You might argue that nuclear facilities haven't helped us all that much, and have done quite a bit of damage, but we also couldn't be taking steps toward fusion without learning from our mistakes with fission.

Essentially, the countries that take the risks and have the courage to step into unknown territory are going to see the biggest returns the fastest, since ultimately nanotech offers to return more resources than those expended getting to it. Meanwhile, anyone who pussyfoots around is going to find themself quickly losing military, economic, and technological prowess.

Global flame war (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 9 years ago | (#12166883)

Much like the response to EVERY article posted on slashdot, any sort of open forum discussion on this topic by the uninformed masses would just be a deafening roar of half thought out (if half), pessismistic ranting that would point out every reason not to pursue the idea, why the idea is being pursued in the wrong way, how someone else already thought up the idea, etc. Eventually the discussion would boil down to how the minutes of the discussion meetings don't render properly in Firefox before all the scientists who actually know wtf they are talking about collectively build a ship and leave the planet. Of course the ship will probably run on Sun systems, proving yet again how stupid those scientists are.

Nanotechnology is nanomaterials (3, Informative)

obiquity (658885) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166893)

There is a common misconception about nanotechnology that even /. editors are not immune to. I suppose this has to do with the fact that nanotechnology has morphed over the years into a discpline that has very little to do with "nanofabrication" and nanomachines, areas in which research has slowed substantially since the early 90s.

Rather, most academic research is now geared towards the production of highly controlled materials at the nano-scale. Nanoparticulate metals and oxides have tons of applications but almost none of them are nano machines. Rather, this work has become advanced form of materials chemistry and physics, designing regular surface features or particles. For this reason, nano-materials are not going to be much more dangerous than normal materials in the big picture. Nano-disperse carbon, which is sometimes called *smoke* or soot, is probably just as toxic as bucky-balls.

An interesting issue is: why have researches have abandoned nano-machines? I think it has to do with the fact that we already know how to build them. There's technology that has a great track record and can do almost anything you'd like at the nano and sub nano scale. They're called *enzymes* and recent enzyme engineering advances have made many nano-related tasks kind of superfluous. Also there are viruses and bacteria(maybe) that range into the nano-scale as well. So I think it boils down to a "why bother" issue with nano machines.

Of course I *might* be biased given my chosen area of research. I'm a chem. Prof investigating enzyme and bacteria engineering. Nah, I'm not biased.....

If you've read "Century Rain" by Alastair Reynolds (1)

isolationism (782170) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166920)

... Most "Slashers" would probably argue in favour of regulation now before it is indeed too late.

Incidentally, I will hopefully post a review of this excellent book soonish, if nobody beats me to it.

New Regulation. (1)

Foktip (736679) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166926)

Um what? Particulate pollution? Thats what they want you to think. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Particulate

Thats about the biggest kind of nano-structures they would make; thats the _starting point_ of nano-technology. THe aim, is to make it way smaller.

wikipedia:
"particulate matter smaller than about 10 micrometers, referred to as PM10, can settle in the lungs and cause health problems"

Thats the problem. Nanotubes, nanofabric, nanocomputers, nanomachines, all of them would want to become smaller and better and the industries are trying to convince government/public that their particles are big, so they can classify them as an entirely different type of hazard (which is currently the case in the US) while at the same time trying to convince their buyers their particles are small (and advanced). It just doesnt make sense.

THey need better regulation that specifically deals with nanoparticles less than 20nm or even 30nm (safety factor).

...And You Think Steroids Is A Problem (1)

Chi Hsuan Men (767453) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166948)

I imagine that sometime in the (near?) future, athletes using steroids will have been considered the cavemen of artifical performance enhancing measures.

Imagine nano-tech that will be able to act as red-blood cells, fueling muscles with oxygen in order to perform better. Or, on a a more basic level, able to replenish the body with nutrients in order to keep an athlete's biochemistry in check so they can perform at an inhuman level.

Granted, this sort of scenario is down a distant road; however, with labs already asking questions about GENE doping, it's not completely proposterous to start addressing these specific situations in order stop the abuses before they start.

Obsession with power (1)

parasonic (699907) | more than 9 years ago | (#12166955)

As soon as anything comes out, any development is made, someone wants to regulate it, or at least someone declares that it needs to be regulated. With a slight bit of foresight, one would not complain until there's something to complain about. Most of the times, things work out for the better...sometimes, things don't, and big deals are made. Nanotech needs a LOT of development and a lot of "space to work with," and limitations right now when there are essentially no problems is a bad idea. Any environmental issue right now with its development is just a drop in the bucket, and in a few years, we will probably have a "safer" solution, and a processor that is so fast that the desktop user won't even have to upgrade for eight years...
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