Thursday, September 11, 2003

Nanotech policy predictions: Part II

Here's another interview excerpt from my reporter's notebook, asking nano-prognosticators to predict what is likely to happen next in the nanotech/policy debates. The first excerpt can be seen here. This next conversation is with Rocky Rawstern, editor of Nanotechnology Now, and a Foresight Institute senior associate.

Rocky recently released a set of enlightening interviews with nanotechnology policy experts in his premium newsletter, including U.S. Sen. George Allen, R-Va., a co-sponsor of nanotech legislation; Neil Gordon, president of the Canadian NanoBusiness Alliance; Tim Harper, founder of CMP Cientifica; Ottilia Saxl of the U.K.'s Institute of Nanotechnology; Bo Varga, founding sponsor of nanoSIG and many others. It's definitely a worthwhile read.

Here's some of my chat with him:

Me: Do you think a system of self-regulation is going to emerge?

Rocky: Yes, and it will likely be based on existing frameworks, such as that for biotech. However, building a system that promotes openness and cooperation will need to be anchored by a much greater understanding (by our elected leaders) of the potential of nanoscale science and technology. Right now we have less than 10 such leaders here in the U.S. who have that understanding – the individuals sponsoring the current legislative efforts (S.189 and HR766).

Optimism? Unanimous optimism from all whom I interviewed, and from everyone I have spoken with in the past year. The only cloud that I have seen is in regards to military uses of nanotech, and the possible suppression of the technologies behind it. Something we need to be aware of, as usual.

Me: Will the recent media attention to nanotech increase the likelihood of some form of regulation in the U.S.?

Rocky: It could certainly play a role, just as it has (and is doing) with stem cell research here in the U.S. (while other countries forge ahead, and will likely develop new medical applications far in advance of us).

Me: Will it become as controversial as stem cell research or cloning?

Rocky: Possibly, and growing more likely as our media hype both the up- and down-sides to nanotech. Getting the nanoboosters together with the anti-techies and modern day Luddites may play a key part in keeping the debate sane. Recently I connected author Bill Atkinson and CRN Director of Research Chris Phoenix - the result of which has been an ongoing debate, which can be seen here. The upshot of this debate is that regardless of their starting mindset, getting the parties to the table, and having them engage in reasoned dialog, we may stem the tide of hype, which will ease the minds of the general public, which will keep our elected leaders from being painted into a corner when it comes time to create (or not create) regulations to govern nanotech.


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