Nanotech Database

Article Title:
Future Technologies, Today's Choices

Arnall, Alexander Huw

Journal Information:
Report by Greenpeace Environmental Trust
Vol. 0, Num. 0


"Nanotechnology, Artificial Intelligence and Robotics; A technical, political and institutional map of emerging technologies." "Greenpeace is in the business of evaluating both future and current threats. Our mission must be to survey upcoming innovations for several reasons. First, we are conscious of unintended (but foreseeable) consequences that impact on the environment. No one intended, for example, that pesticide use in the 1970s and 1980s would have the impact on wildlife that it did. Becoming aware of, and ultimately preventing, the environmental downside of technological developments is clearly a core interest..."

This report was commissioned to offer "a comprehensive review of nanotechnology and artificial intelligence/robotics developments from an organisation with a reputation for technological expertise  Imperial College London. We asked them to document existing applications and to analyse current research and development (R&D), the main players behind these developments, and the associated incentives and risks."

"AI and robotics are likely to continue to creep into our lives without us really noticing. Unfortunately, many of the applications appear to be taking place amongst agencies, particularly the military, that do not readily respond to public concern, however well articulated or thought through."

"Nanotechnology and AI/robotics, together with biotechnology, may well be on a convergent path. In 2001 the National Science Foundation held a large workshop to look at the implications of this convergence and the implications for human abilities and productivity. AI could be boosted by nanotechnology innovations in computing power. Applications of a future nanotechnology general assembler would require some AI and robotics innovations. Equally, nanotechnology may converge much sooner with biotechnology as it uses the tools and structures of biological systems to generate tiny machines. Although the prospect of general assemblers may be quite distant, self-replicating machines that use the tools of biology  and look more like living things than machines  might be closer at hand through the convergence of bio- and nanotechnologies. Grey goo might not be a realistic prospect; green goo may be closer to the mark  quite how close is difficult to judge on the basis of the evidence in this report. Any creation that posed the prospect of being self-replicating would need to be handled with immense care to ensure environmental protection.

Whether any of the technological futures being scoped out in laboratories are what our general public would like is a question that can only be answered by asking them. If those concerned with the development of new technologies, and nanotechnology in particular, are convinced that the benefits they hope to generate will withstand scrutiny they should have no concerns about engaging and winning public support.