The Little Big Down

dimanche 9 octobre 2005


Little big down

What is nanotechnology and why does it matter to civil society ? From several different vantage points, nanotechnology – a set of techniques used to manipulate matter at the scale of atoms and molecules – looms as the highest, widest and most powerful technological wave the world has ever faced. The turbulence that will accompany the nano-wave has breathtaking societal implications, especially for poor and marginalized communities.

It will upend markets for labour and raw materials and change the way we live, eat, work, wage war and define life. Some predict that nanotechnology will trigger a new economic and cultural utopia combining material abundance, sustainable development and profit. But history suggests a different scenario. In recent decades we have witnessed the privatization of science and a staggering concentration of corporate power that has undermined democracy and dissent throughout the world. Nano-scale manipulations offer unprecedented potential for sweeping monopoly control of elements and processes fundamental to life and material resources.

In short, nano-scale technologies are poised to become the operative strategy for
corporate control of industrial manufacturing, food, agriculture and health in the 21st century.

Investment in nanotechnology around the world – by both the private and public sectors – adds up to between 5 and 6 billion (US) dollars a year. Virtually all Fortune 500 companies are investing in nanotech research and development along with hundreds of small start-up companies. Europe, Japan and the US account for most of the government investment, with Japan investing slightly more than the other two major players.

In the US, the level of government spending on nanotech is now over $800 million per year, making it the biggest publicly-funded science endeavour since the Apollo moon shot. (The Department of Defense gets the bulk of the US government’s money earmarked for nanotech.) At least 35 countries have some kind of national nanotech research programme : Korea is spending close to $200 million a year and both Taiwan and China are spending over a hundred million annually.

A well-worn statistic from the US National Science Foundation (NSF) forecasts that the global market for nanotech’s processes and products will reach one trillion dollars by 2015. Because nanotech breakthroughs are coming even faster than predicted, the NSF recently revised their prediction and now says the one trillion-dollar wave will come ashore sometime in 2011 or 2012.