Cientifica’s report: Using Emerging Technologies to Address Global Risks

Tim Harper, Hailing Yu, and Martin Jordonov of Cientifca (a global consulting company on nano and other emerging technologies) have released a new report, Using Emerging Technologies to Address Global Risks. A compact 28 pp, the report provides good context for understanding some of the difficult issues, overpopulation and environmental degradation, facing us. It’s also a well reasoned and thoughtful position paper on further developing emerging technologies with the aim of solving environmental problems. It is oriented to the business end of nanotechnology as becomes clear at about page 18.

I did raise my eyebrows when the authors claimed that despite the fact that the banking industry is “one of the most regulated and supervised sectors in the world of commerce” that economic chaos has occurred in an argument against ‘too’ many regulations for emerging technologies (1st para., p. 23).

This difference of opinion may lie in geography. From my perspective here in Canada, one of the major problems besetting the US economy, which affects Canadians greatly, was the financial chaos eventually caused by lifting of many of their banking regulations in the early 2000’s. Personally, I think there was an imbalance. No regulation and lack of oversight in some areas and far too much regulation and red tape in others. (I came across the US Sarbanes-Oxley requirements in a couple of articles I wrote on content management. I don’t remember much other than the requirements for tagging, managing, and tracking data were crushing and it was specific to financial services.)

However, I do agree with the authors that government agencies and policymakers do tend to view regulations as a solution to many of

life’s problems especially when something goes wrong and the attitude seems to be, the more regulation the better. Getting back to my original comment about regulatory balance, I wouldn’t assume despite the authors’ claims that because a few companies are good citizens (the authors list an example) that the majority will follow suit. Consequently, I think some regulations and oversight need to be in place.

As nanotechnology and life sciences are poised to be as influential as oil and chemicals were to the early 20th century, and the global population becomes interconnected in a way undreamt of by even the best science fiction writers, our relationship with technology will change at a rapid pace. The difficulty that both policy makers and the general public have with technology from a lack of knowledge and a lack of control. (p. 24)

I quite agree with the authors here but I don’t understand what they mean by control in light of their earlier assertions regarding regulations. They never really describe what they mean by control.

What I particularly appreciate in this report is the way the authors weave together some of the great issues facing us environmentally and economically while suggesting that it’s possible to remedy these situations.

(I wish I could quote one or two more passages from the report, unfortunately, the copy feature is locked, which means more typing or keyboarding.)

ETA Oct. 5, 2011: I want to commend the authors for their inclusion of the internet and social media and their impact on emerging technologies, business, and global risks in their discussion.

I find there’s a general tendency to view social media and the internet purely as a business opportunity, a means of fomenting social revolution, hurting brains, etc. on the one side. Or it’s simply ignored while discussions rage about environmental degradation, risks of emerging technologies, etc. I’m glad to see the authors have put the internet and social media (which are emerging technologies themselves) into the context of the discussion about other emerging technologies (nanotechnology, robots, synthetic biology, etc.) and global risks.

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