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Wednesday, 14 July 2010

What are the dangers of nanotechnology?

"Science is an edged tool, with which men play like children, and cut their own fingers"  — Arthur Eddington.

Most scientists will harangue us about the highly acclaimed newfangled panacea — “nanotech”, that is basically controlling matter or building machines which could re-order matter on a molecular and atomic scale. It usually deals with 1 to 100 nanometre structures. The concept was first used by Richard Feynman to describe the possibility of manipulating individual atoms and molecules using a set of precise tools, which in plain language means we could take the building blocks of matter and create literally anything. That of course after we had got around certain problems, such as gravity losing ground to surface tension and van der Waals attraction, etc.

Gung-ho boffins wheedled generous public funding out of governments by promising miraculous achievements, such as

1. In nanomedicinenanorobots (e.g., Computational Genes), introduced into the body, would repair or detect damages and infections. Once there, medical nanodevices would rush to work in a specific organ or tissue mass. The doctor would placidly monitor the progress, only to make certain the nano-widgets have got to the right destination/correct target treatment region, and actually see them gathered around their target (a tumour mass, etc.) by scanning sections of the body. Nanomachines would be able to enter cells, tell damaged cells from healthy ones and repair them; further down the line, self assembled biocompatible nanodevices that will detect, evaluate, treat and report to the clinical doctor automatically (and probably eventually replace him). Roughly speaking, we’d be able to regenerate not only our internal organs, but our extremities as well.

2. Programmable matter based on artificial atoms to design materials whose properties can be “easily, reversibly and externally controlled”;

3. Nano-scale materials can show different properties compared to those they exhibit on a macro scale, allowing unique applications. For instance, a material such as gold, which is chemically inert on normal scales, works as a potent chemical catalyst on nano-scales. (Weren’t we already running out of gold ore deposits?);

Much of the slobbery over nanotechnology is kindled by such quantum and surface phenomena that matter displays on the nano-scale.

4. The concepts of molecular self-assembly and/or supramolecular chemistry to automatically arrange themselves into some useful conformation through a bottom-up approach. The concept of molecular recognition is especially important: molecules can be designed so that they tend towards a specific configuration or arrangement thanks to non-covalent intermolecular forces. Thus they would attract mutually and make “a more complex and useful whole”. Luckily, it seems most useful structures require complex and thermodynamically unlikely arrangements of atoms. Nevertheless, every living creature (or even inanimate nature) is in a way an example of self-assembly based on molecular recognition.

5. Back in the real world, the most important results so far have been fullerenes in 1985 and carbon nano-tubes, the study of synthesis and properties of semiconductor nanocrystals, which led to an ever-growing number of metal and metal oxide nano-particles and quantum dots.

6. Molecular nanotechnology is mainly a theoretical science, seeking to predict inventions and map out new routes to follow. Molecular nanotechnology, sometimes called molecular manufacturing, describes engineered nano-systems (nanoscale machines) operating on the molecular scale. Molecular nanotechnology is especially associated with the molecular assembler, a machine that can produce a desired structure or device atom-by-atom using the principles of mechanosynthesis — in the utopical sci-fi bright future we’ll chuck some stuff into a molecular nano-cooker, press a few buttons and whatever we ask for will pop out.

In general it is very difficult to assemble devices on the atomic scale, as you have to stick atoms on other atoms of comparable size and stickiness. Some believe future nano-systems will be hybrids of silicon technology and biological molecular machines. Others claim that mechanosynthesis is impossible due to the difficulties in mechanically manipulating individual molecules. Fortunately, the much-coveted feats of molecular nanotechnology, that is molecular assemblers and nanorobots are far beyond current capabilities (or so they say).


Most scientists are intelligent fools playing with dangerous toys, while the sheeple bleat happily at their amazing achievements. The benefits, they say, outweigh the risks, but forget to specify who will get the benefits and who the risks.

Carbon nanotube
Carbon nanotube

Well, at the opposite end of the scale are the following highly probable and possible disasters:

1. Those who still have some common sense left are concerned with the effects the use of nanomaterials and the inevitable dumping of nanoparticles and nanotubes as a result of their industrial-scale manufacturing would have on human health and the environment.
Scientists that have taken a permanent leave of sanity will eventually drive us to the brink of chaos precisely by first developing and then thinking about possible risks. Tragedies like bovine spongiform encephalopathy (‘mad cow’s disease), thalidomide, asbetosis, Chernobyl, DDT, BP oil spill, or time bombs like genetically modified food, nuclear energy, reproductive technologies, biotechnology — to name but few — are a shining example of how insane modern society is. New technologies enthusiasts argue that “adequate oversight, risk research strategy, and public engagement” would help to minimize possible human and environmental exposure, but that’s in line with our twisted mentality — why not avoid the exposure instead of minimizing it? Minimized exposure just puts off the impending harmful (and eventually lethal) effects until some indefinite moment in the future. As if we weren’t exposed to enough toxins already! Looks like they’re trying new methods of population control.

2. Microscopic nanorobots could easily cross cell barriers and enter our bloodstream, I don’t dare imagine how it could affect our body! It might either react violently against alien substance or mistake it for another natural substance like plastics are misidentified as hormones by our organism. Those designed to heal could go mad and either dismantle our bodies or decide we need a third eye, horns, wings or whatever "improvement" they would think of.
Well, we’ll start dealing with it when it comes to a head, that is, people begin to get ill and die.

3. It would take infinite resources and energy to produce nanomachines and nanomaterials, since according to the principle of energy conservation you can’t make 20 molecules out of 2, so exactly how would this technology help us to spare resources? And what about waste disposal, not to mention the risk of nanoparticles or nanotubes being released during disposal, destruction and recycling with all the ensuing problems? O, let future generations take care of it; anyway, these things only affect the grassroots.

4. What if self-replicating machines get out of control (and they sure as hell will) and it’s impossible to stop them?
"Some engineers dream of creating self-replicating nanobots - tiny devices that create replicas of themselves by manipulating atoms. A much-quoted worry is that someone will create self-replicating nanobots that refuse to stop - overnight the universe could contain nanobots and nothing else!"
Which leads us to the Grey Gooooooooooooo..... scenario.

One of such technological feats was the creation of killer bees bred in a Brazilian lab where bright-minded luminaries crossed a much more aggressive African wild bee and a humble European bee to increase the insect’s natural productivity out of pure greed. The final product broke out of the lab, devoured native bees and bit to death a bunch of people (but unfortunately not the creators, there's no justice in this world). So how exactly has mankind profited from the experimentation in question? Extermination of indigenous bees, several corpses, and, most importantly, no honey at all. A telltale example. Who was held responsible or got punished? Apart from the victims including indigenous bees, I mean dead bodies, as far as I know, no-one.

5. One of the objectives would be the quest for new ways to control slaves or better still to build robot slaves. Once again for the good of mankind.

6. Technological progress is sold as a struggle for the good of humankind. But in fact it’s only goal is and has always been to keep the wheels of commerce greased, which means churning out new products.

7. The inevitable use of nanotechnology for military purposes (that is surely on the front burner) would lead to the creation of the untraceable weapons of mass destruction, networked cameras for the governments to spy on their citizens and so on, giving a new boost to arms race.

8. Quick buck seekers are taking advantage of the opportunity to milk governments for funds by using the word indiscriminately and in most cases inadequately, as a result a nano bubble is growing. Which is actually good news, since it will distract them from “more ambitious and far-sighted work” and hopefully stave off its apocalyptic consequences.

9. The catalytic activity of nanomaterials bodes a whole host of potential catastrophes fuelled by their interaction with biomaterials. They could turn our food inedible, fresh water undrinkable, etc.

Nobody ever asks us, the plebs, whether we agree with this line of progress or not, while scientists seek glory, self-satisfaction and fun. Admittedly, most people don’t care or have no criteria of their own and therefore are easy to manipulate.
We put up gladly with civilisation that feeds us on artificial food stuffed with antibiotics, hormones and other toxic substances so that food industry worldwide can produce disproportionate quantities of junk food and rake it in; or, for that matter, makes us breathe polluted air and drink polluted water so that coal, steel, car, oil etc industry (both heavy and light) keep turning a nice penny.
All this, in turn, causes epidemic cancer, cardiovascular diseases, new viruses unknown in the recent past etc, which provides an inexhaustible source of monstrous profits for Big Pharma through creation of harmful, contaminating drugs that will eventually finish us off directly, or indirectly by seeping into our water supply and consequently food from dumped residues. A vicious circle!

The masses in general get what they deserve, as most of us would sooner die than give up modern comforts for the sake of healthy food and lifestyle.
There's one born every minute, so that the rich keep thriving.

Considering that, in general human beings do things simply because they can, replicators will eventually come into being, so I’m sort of looking for a portal to escape into a parallel universe or elsewhere. I wonder what the well-offs eat and breathe, for all I know they might as well have already found the portal.

That said, here is the list of the chickens that have already come home to roost:

“Researchers have discovered that silver nanoparticles used in socks only to reduce foot odor are being released in the wash with possible negative consequences. Silver nanoparticles, which are bacteriostatic, may then destroy beneficial bacteria which are important for breaking down organic matter in waste treatment plants or farms.

A study at the University of Rochester found that when rats breathed in nanoparticles, the particles settled in the brain and lungs, which led to significant increases in biomarkers for inflammation and stress response. A study in China indicated that nanoparticles induce skin aging through oxidative stress in hairless mice.

A two-year study at UCLA's School of Public Health found lab mice consuming nano-titanium dioxide showed DNA and chromosome damage to a degree "linked to all the big killers of man, namely cancer, heart disease, neurological disease and aging".

A major study published more recently in Nature Nanotechnology suggests some forms of carbon nanotubes – a poster child for the “nanotechnology revolution” – could be as harmful as asbestos if inhaled in sufficient quantities.

Anthony Seaton of the Institute of Occupational Medicine in Edinburgh, Scotland, who contributed to the article on carbon nanotubes said "We know that some of them probably have the potential to cause mesothelioma. So those sorts of materials need to be handled very carefully."

A newspaper article ( reports that workers in a paint factory (in China) developed serious lung disease and nanoparticles were found in their lungs.”

So far no technology brought us eternal youth, eradication of diseases, immortality and boundless opulence for everyone — in other words biblical Paradise!

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  1. hi . i have read your answers about get answer gadget. your get answer gadget is also not working. i have tried but it is not working. why?

  2. I've already explained in my post why clicking on Sign in written in this gadget doesn't work. That's why I added external Sign In gadget. If signing in with your Google account doesn't work (it happens sometimes), try Open ID. That's what I usually do.


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