Tuesday, August 05, 2003

The Shift of Foresight: Going Mainstream

It's nice to see that the nano-seers at the Foresight Institute, a group of nanotech enthusiasts whose ruminations were once considered a bit too esoteric for general consumption, are finally getting some respect from mainstream business publications.

Silicon Valley Biz Ink's recent interview with Foresight President Christine Peterson helps send a message to the general business community that it needs to wake up and catch up on what all these messy-haired, rumpled eggheads have pondering in obscurity for years.

In the interview, Peterson gives some advice for the summer, warning that the zinc oxide nanoparticles in some brands of sunscreen "may have health issues." (For more on this, see: Survey finds the smaller the size, the bigger the possible risks.) "So I wouldn't necessarily advise you run out and buy the sunscreen right now, certainly not for your children," she told Biz Ink. "But I think studies will be done and we'll have an answer pretty soon about whether this is a good idea."

At the same time, though, she expects that the first benefits from nanotechnology, in the next two or three decades, will come from "clean manufacturing," replacing the old techniques of leaving behind "leftover atoms and molecules that end up often in the water and in the air. There's no excuse for this; nature doesn't do it that dirtily."

Peterson said that while it's "unusual for a new technology, with applications so far off, to have so much being spent on ethical issues," she remains true to the name and spirit of her institute. Like a good nano-scout, she emphasized the need to be prepared: "Fortunately, we have quite a bit of time here – perhaps a couple of decades or more to look at this issue and figure it out in advance."


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