July 22, 2004: U.S. Public Sensible About Nanotechnology
Has Clear Understanding of Nanotech Benefits, Downsides
Palo Alto, CA – July 22, 2004 – Since 1986 Foresight Institute, a nanotechnology education and public policy think tank, has worked to educate the public about molecular nanotechnology. Founded by Dr. Eric Drexler, author of Engines of Creation and Nanosystems, and Christine Peterson, president, Foresight Institute's mission has been to prepare society for nanotechnology with a focus on balanced discussion and broad understanding of its potential by the general public.
A recent study of the American public's views on nanotechnology has shown a remarkably accurate understanding of its potential benefits and drawbacks. Conducted by North Carolina State University researcher, Dr. Michael Cobb, assistant professor of political science, who designed the survey and analyzed the data, and Dr. Patrick Hamlett, associate professor of science, technology and society, and Dr. Jane Macoubrie, assistant professor of communication, the results will appear in the next Journal of Nanoparticle Research.
Funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF), the study found a majority (57 percent) of respondents selected medical advances as the most important benefit, followed by environmental cleanup (16 percent), security and defense (12 percent), and improved human physical and mental abilities (11 percent). Only 4 percent saw "cheaper, longer-lasting consumer products" as the most important benefit.
In choosing which of five risks it was most important to avoid, respondents' top choice was loss of privacy due to surveillance (32 percent), followed by a nanotechnology arms race (24 percent), nanoparticles accumulating inside humans (19 percent), and economic disruption with job loss (14 percent). Only 12 percent were most concerned about the uncontrollable spread of self-replicating nanobots.
Approximately 70 percent were "somewhat" to "very" hopeful about nanotechnology.
"It's extremely gratifying to see that the message of nanotech's benefits and potential downsides has been heard so clearly by the public," said Christine Peterson, president and founder of Foresight Institute. "Foresight has worked hard to present a balanced view of the future we can expect from nanotech: huge medical and environmental advances, but with some key concerns about potential misuse. One of our central points has been that deliberate abuse is a far bigger issue than scary accident scenarios of nanobots run amok. These messages have come through loud and clear.
"Some nanotech promoters, and even some researchers, have criticized Foresight Institute for mentioning negative applications," Peterson continued. "This survey indicates that balanced discussion of nanotech's benefits and potential drawbacks is being handled well by the U.S. public. The task ahead is to help reinforce and maintain the common-sense views already held by the public, and make sure their concerns are addressed."
For more information about the North Carolina State University study:
About Foresight Institute
Foresight Institute is the leading public interest organization focused on nanotechnology. Formed in 1986 by K. Eric Drexler and Christine Peterson, Foresight dedicates itself to providing education, policy development, and networking to maximize benefits and minimize downsides of molecular manufacturing.
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Foresight Institute is producing the 1st Conference on Advanced Nanotechnology: Research, Applications, Policy, October 22-23, 2004, in the Washington, DC area.
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