"Nanotechnology" by Toby Shelley is an excellent introduction on the topic of nanotechnology and how it might impact our lives, for better and worse. This concise and highly readable book helps the layperson understand how nanotechnology is a science that is currently being controlled by the powerful to benefit elite interests. As a virtually unregulated industry, the author believes that it is imperative for the public to begin to demand accountability before businesses and governments make risky, short-sighted decisions that cause irreparable harm to us all.
Mr. Shelley describes how nanotechnology will impact the energy, medical and information technology sectors in the short, intermediate and long range. Incremental improvements in materials and processes might eventually point the way towards paradigm-shifting advances that could disrupt major industries and shift the balance of military power. The author details how the advanced industrial countries of the world are leading the way in research and development in order to protect their economic advantages and maintain military superiority. In this light, it is not surprising when we learn that the U.S. government has made nanotechnology a top priority with numerous projects sponsored by NASA, DARPA, DoD, DoE and other key agencies.
Mr. Shelley explains that there is much potential good. Nanotechnology will be used to develop lighter and stronger materials for high-mileage vehicles; more efficient fuel and solar cells will help speed the transition away from fossil fuels; and so on. But the author cautions us that there are many unknowns that need to be better understood before we release nanomaterials and nanoparticles into the environment. At the production level, the effects on workers exposed to nanotechnology during the manufacturing and handling processes is unknown, and the proper disposal of waste materials has not been rigorously studied. At the retail level, there is no requirement for manufacturers to label their products nor are there any special requirements to assure that nanotechnology products have been tested for safety. In practice, this means that consumers may be unknowingly applying sunscreens that contain nanoparticles and have no idea what health risks they may be acquiescing to when the lotion is absorbed into the skin, to cite just one example.
Mr. Shelley is rightly concerned about the ends to which robocop-like supersoldiers might be used and the likelihood of a nanotechnological arms race. The author also muses about the ripple effects that changing manufacturing practices might have for workers, what shrinking raw commodities markets might mean for poor exporting nations, how invasive new surveillance technologies might impact our civil liberties, and other related issues. Clearly, dialogue is needed at multiple levels of society if we wish to channel the science of nanotechnology in a socially beneficial direction. To that end, the author proposes a number of sound, common-sense ideas that deserve to be widely discussed.
I highly recommend this important book to everyone.