The implications of nanotechnology run the gamut of human affairs from the medical, ethical, mental, legal and environmental, to fields such as engineering, biology, chemistry, computing, materials science, military applications, and communications.
Benefits of nanotechnology include improved manufacturing methods, water purification systems, energy systems, physical enhancement, nanomedicine, better food production methods and nutrition and large scale infrastructure auto-fabrication. Products made with nanotechnology may require little labor, land, or maintenance, be highly productive, low in cost, and have modest requirements for materials and energy.
Risks include environmental, health, and safety issues if negative effects of nanoparticles are overlooked before they are released; transitional effects such as displacement of traditional industries as the products of nanotechnology become dominant; military applications such as biological warfare and implants for soldiers; and surveillance through nano-sensors, which are of concern to privacy rights advocates.
There is debate about whether nanotechnology merits special government regulation, and regulatory bodies such as the United States Environmental Protection Agency and the Health & Consumer Protection Directorate of the European Commission have started dealing with the potential risks of nanoparticles.
Nano optimists, including many governments, see nanotechnology delivering benefits such as:
* environmentally benign material abundance for all by providing universal clean water supplies
* atomically engineered food and crops resulting in greater agricultural productivity with fewer labour requirements
* nutritionally enhanced interactive ‘smart’ foods
* cheap and powerful energy generation
* clean and highly efficient manufacturing
* radically improved formulation of drugs, diagnostics and organ replacement
* much greater information storage and communication capacities
* interactive ‘smart’ appliances; and increased human performance through convergent technologies
Potential risks of nanotechnology can broadly be grouped into four areas:
* Health issues - the effects of nanomaterials on human biology
* Environmental issues - the effects of nanomaterials on the environment
* Societal issues - the effects that the availability of nanotechnological devices will have on politics and human interaction
* "Grey goo" - the specific risks associated with the speculative vision of molecular nanotechnology