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Thirty Essential Studies
Jamais Cascio, 24 Aug 04

The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology is, for me, one of the best examples of the intersection of activism and anticipation. The CRN founders -- Mike Treder and Chris Phoenix -- have a detailed understanding of the science underlying the growing field of nanotechnology, and a strong desire to make sure that when the molecular nanotech era arrives, we (as a civilization) are ready for it. I've talked about CRN a few times before -- and they're on WorldChanging's small link list -- and while I don't necessarily agree with all of their conclusions, they are far and away the best resource around for understanding the implications of emerging molecular technologies.

The CRN blog and the newsletter are valuable information sources, but by far the most useful -- and challenging -- part of the CRN site is their Thirty Essential Studies section, where they lay out the research that should be done over the next few years to better understand how we can deal with potentially game-changing technological developments. By and large, these are not technical questions, but social, political, and economic ones -- that is, they are the questions of how the technology is developed and used by people. While many of the suggested studies are very nanotechnology-focused, the Thirty Essential Studies taken as a whole could serve as a model for other groups interested in a given early-stage technological development.

Treder and Phoenix are not neo-Luddites, as they clearly believe that the potential benefits of molecular nanotechnology are numerous and transformative. But neither are they Nano-Cheerleaders, as they ask hard questions about the ways in which molecular manufacturing would affect jobs, military power, and the environment. They are (although they don't actually say so) embracing the Precautionary Principle -- they're trying to figure out the ways in which nanotechnology could emerge, so that we can avoid the pitfalls and disasters.

Molecular nanotechnology is coming, and coming soon. Skeptics are harder to find with each new development, and governments around the world are starting to talk openly of using molecular nanotech as an economic and military equalizer. The more we can work now to think about, to plan for, and to direct the nanotechnological era, the better off we'll be.

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