Social, Cultural, Political, Economic, & Environmental Concerns
Medical nanotechnology promises to extend life and alter the method of surgery to far less invasive methods. These are just two of endless outcomes impacted by medical nanotechnology to say nothing of nonmedical nano-technological advancements. Several factors will impact the proliferation of medical nanotechnology including social, cultural, political, economic, and environmental concerns.
Medical nanotechnology holds a variety of social concepts both practical and impractical. As society moves into a more technological dependent area in which technology is incorporated in most products and areas of living, nanotechnology seeks to fill this gap in medical needs. Ultimately, this technology promises to save lives but also to extend life. Ray Kurzweil describes this best stating:
People and computers will intermix with nanobots, blood cell-sized robots, that will be integrated into everything from our clothing to our bodies and brains. People simply need to live long enough — another 15 to 30 years — to live forever. Think of it as replacing everyone’s “human body version 1.0” with nanotechnology that will repair or replace ailing or aging tissue, he says. Parts will become easily replaceable (Kurzweil, 2005).
Despite having many positive connotations, Nanotechnology is not without its critics. From a medical standpoint, researchers have been studying the problems associated with releasing millions of nanoparticles into a living creature and in the environment. There is likely to be unexpected consequences for this action. For example, issues with toxicity of the particles and their impacts on “health, environmental, and sustainability benefits” are beginning to emerge. Like many new technologies, it is highly likely that nanotechnology will have its opponents until it can provide itself to be safe.
The US and the world are moving towards a greater technological dependence due to globalization. Culturally, the US is moving towards a culture of innovation dependence such as the ubiquitous use of cell phones. Medical nanotechnology is already being used for testing purposes and these uses are not questioned due to the culture of innovation that is present.
The culture of innovation presents a vast divide in individuals as there are those who can utilize and create the innovation of nanotechnology and then there are those who are dependent on it such as patients. The problem that is seen in culture is that this can present barriers as the use of the technologies becomes paramount to the understanding of it. Once can see this in the cell phone and personal computer as most users depend on these devices and but lack any working knowledge of them. One might compare this with the invention of the automobile. The use of the automobile became so important that its use and place in culture superseded other concerns such as environment and health. Any technology which promises to revolutionize health and society will likely have a tremendous impact on culture. It is likely that this change will occur slowly overtime with machines taking on many responsibilities that allow for improved health. Imagine non robots capable of reducing cancer tumors. This will fundamentally change the culture of US and western worlds by extending life and changing medicine as it is currently understood.
Nanotechnology is of political concern at present. The problem in this area is the fact that many of the groups that rail against GMOs and other technologies reduce nanotechnology from a complex idea to a basic formula for disaster playing on fears. Political parties such as the Tea Party have seized on this idea as a means of rallying support for its party at the cost of educating the public about the reality of nanotechnology.
The most disturbing aspect of this type of anti-nanotechnology campaign is the use of fear as a weapon of choice. Reasonable people can have a discussion about the merits of what can be included in organics but when it comes to carrying the day emotions will always trump the science. Every day I hear scientists making a case for specific scientific research results but when a person’s mind is made up those results become meaningless because people will always believe what they want to believe (DiLoreto,2010).
It is likely that nanotechnology will face fierce political resistance in the way that GMOs have been vilified. (No matter what evidence is presented.) There is a strange dichotomy in American culture and politics that one one hand Americans are highly technology dependent but at the same time fearful and irrational towards these technologies. It will take time for the politics to evolve. The is much like the debate that occurred in the 1990s concerning cell phones causing brain tumors. Over time, research and education will win out.
There are two sides to the coin of economics with regard to nanotechnology. The first side is the fact that medicine will be made less expensive and reduce the need for costly machines. This cost reduction will benefit consumers by providing low cost healthcare in many instances. The other side of the coin is that thousands of healthcare workers will be made obsolete. The advancements in blood and urine testing has already threatened to replace laboratories and workers that perform these tests (Ellis, 2013). If a Nano-robot can eliminate cancer cells, this begs the question; what will become of cancer research which is a multibillion dollar industry?
The economic impacts of nanotechnology are a large unknown area. Much like the internet, most experts could not visualize the loss of many businesses due to direct consumer access but at the same time they also did not see the creation of millions of new virtual businesses. It is likely that nanotechnology will have this same impact on the economy.
The impacts of nanotechnology are not clear in terms of the environment. This technology is likely to receive opposition in this area due to politics and culture in the US. There may be a large area of caution that needs to be considered with this technology. Research in bio fuels and water treatment revealed that when particles are broken down at the nano level can leave traces in the environment (Espey, 2011). One of the main components in this breakdown is silver nanoparticles which presents some risks to the environment (Espey, 2011). With the increased use of these particles in manufacturing it appears that there is a large area of concern because these particles enter the water systems and agriculture and the impacts on the environment are unknown. The problem with environmental concerns is that they are tied directly to political motivations and culture manifestations. This area of concern can be a barrier to research.
The advancement in medical nanotechnology is likely to have a profound impact on the world. Whether this impact is negative or positive will likely be a mixed result dependent on the type of emergent technologies. If the technologies are radical such as curing cancer, then this will have both massive positive and negative impacts. Current trends in nanotechnology are slow to emerge so it is likely that these impacts on society will be less impactful than that of the emergence of the internet.
Daily Mail. (2013). Giving up technology is as ‘stressful as getting married’ — and Thursday is the hardest day to go without gadgets Retireved from http://www.dailymail.co.uk/science tech/article-2518116/Giving-technology-stressful-getting-married — Thursday-hardest- day-quit.html
DiLoreto, J. (2010). The Politics of Fear and Anti-Nanotechnology Activism. Retrieved from http://www.nanotech-now.com/columns/?article=498
Ellis, M. (2013, October 18). Nanotechnology urine test could detect deadly blood clots. Re trieved from http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/267640.php
Espey, C. (2011). Renewables vs hydrocarbons. Retrieved from Alta Corp: http://www.altacorpcapital.com/upload/media_element/14/01/altacorp-capital-energy-reality-april-2011.pdf
Kurzweil, R. (2005). The singularity is near: When humans transcend biology . (1 ed., pp. 35- 37). New York: Penguin.