From Genomes to Atoms - The Big Down (pdf )


Atomtech on a Page

ISSUE: The key technologies of the past half-century—transistors, semiconductors, and genetic engineering—have all been about down— reducing size, materials and costs while increasing power. We are about to take a much bigger step down. Our capacity to manipulate matter is moving from genes to atoms. While civil society and governments focus on genetic modification, an impressive array of industrial enterprises is targeting a scientific revolution that could modify matter and transform every aspect of work and life. This report introduces a set of tools and techniques we call Atomtechnologies, which includes nanoparticles, nano biotechnology, nanofabrication and molecular manufacture. It also describes the coming convergence of biotechnology, information technologies, and cognitive sciences with nano-scale manipulation of matter as the unifying force..

IMPACT: Every form of work and enterprise will be affected..The current global market for nano-scale technologies is estimated at around us$45 billion. They already play an enabling role in biotechnology, pharmaceuticals, information and energy storage and in the booming materials industry. Nanofabricated circuitry is predicted to capture the silicon-based semiconductor market within the decade (global revenues in this sector alone will top us$300 billion by 2006). The technologies will move into conventional manufacture including everything from home appliances to clothing and food. By 2015, the world market for all steps of Atomtech will exceed us$1 trillion and the world will be faced with bionic organisms
Though its impact will be felt first in the North, Atomtech—like biotech before it— will have early economic and environmental consequences for developing countries.

RISKS: A few scientists (and fewer governments) recognize that Atomtech poses both tremendous opportunities and horrendous social and environmental risks. Atomtech will allow industry to monopolize atomic-level manufacturing platforms that underpin all animate and inanimate matter. The present-day bulk production of materials and new forms of carbon with unknown and untested characteristics is a major concern. In the future, mass production of unique nanomaterials and selfreplicating nano-machinery pose incalculable risks. Atomtech could also mean the creation and combination of new elements and the amplification of weapons of mass destruction…

ACTORS: Public funding in the usa, Japan and Europe is in the range of us$2 billion per annum and rising sharply. Major corporations in every industrial sector are committed, from Bayer to Boeing, Motorola to Mitsubishi and from IBM to Exxon. Their in-house investment probably equals that of start-up enterprises. Total R&D spending worldwide in 2001 was about us$4 billion. Section V (Who cares?) examines the range of small and large companies, universities and governments working on the new technologies. POLICIES: Most present-day Atomtech research does not directly manipulate living material— rather, the chemical elements vital to life—and has largely evaded regulatory scrutiny. Even the production and use of today’s nano-scale materials could have breathtaking societal implications and the environmental impacts are unknown due to insufficient data and study. In the future, molecular manufacturing poses enormous environmental and social risks and must not proceed—even in the laboratory—in the absence of broad societal understanding and assessment. (Section VI offers policy recommendations.)

FORUMS: None. The impact of converging technologies at the nano-scale is either unknown or underestimated in intergovernmental fora. Since nano-scale technologies will be applied in all sectors, no agency is taking the lead. Governments and civil society organizations should establish an International Convention for the Evaluation of New Technologies including mechanisms to monitor technology development.

TheBigDown.pdf (application/pdf Object)


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