Nanotech Database

Article Title:
Will Atom Technologies Work?

ETC Group,

Journal Information:
Report by ETC
Vol. 0, Num. 0


A lengthy report covering what was known about and being done with nanotechnologies in 2003, "The Big Down" concludes with recommendations of the ETC Group, informed by their historical views of the development of technology. They say "The key technologies of the past half-centurytransistors, semiconductors, and genetic engineeringhave 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 target-ing a scientific revolution that could modify matter and transform every aspect of work and life."

  • Regulatory bodies in oecd countries have thus far established no policies or protocols for considering the safety of Step 1 Atomtechnology, which includes nanoparticles in products already on the market and new forms of nano-scale carbon. At this stage, we know practically nothing about the potential cumulative impact of human-made nano-scale particles on human health and the environment. Given the concerns raised over nanoparticle contamination in living organisms, ETC Group proposes that governments declare an immediate moratorium on commercial production of new nanomaterials and launch a transparent global process for evaluating the socio-economic, health and environmental implications of the technology.

  • In the future, the specter of molecular manufacturing poses enormous environmental and social risks and must not proceedeven in the laboratoryin the absence of broad societal understanding and assessment. Emerging technologies require scientific, socioeconomic and societal evaluation in order for governments to make informed decisions about their risks/benefits and ultimate value. To this end, ETC Group proposes the development of an International Convention for the Evaluation of New Technologies (ICENT). There is equally a need to develop mechanisms for the evaluation of emerging technologies at the national and local levels that will empower citizens to participate in open, informed debates.

  • In the early 1990s, the United Nations System lost its capacity for the effective monitoring of multinational corporations and competent assessment of new technologies. The UN Centre on Transnational Corporations was disbanded and the UN Centre for Science and Technology for Development was gutted. The loss of these two vital but undervalued agencies was tantamount to a frontal lobotomy for the intergovernmental community and for the South, in particular. During the 90s, global corporate mergers rose sevenfold (soaring from under half a trillion dollars per annum to US$3.4 trillion) and high-tech stocks jumped sixfold (growing from 5% to 30% of stock values) during the greatest technology boom since the IPO for The Garden of Eden. ETC Group recommends that the UN General Assembly establish a new UN Centre on Commerce and Technology with a wider mandate and the necessary resources to monitor, report and advise on corporate power in the context of both technologies and markets with particular reference to societal impacts.