Talkin' 'bout a (nanotechnological) revolution

IEEE Technology and Society 27 (2):37-43 (2008)
It is often claimed that the development of nanotechnology will constitute a “technological revolution” with profound social, economic, and political consequences. The full implications of this claim can best be understood by imagining a scenario in which a political revolutionary made all the same claims that are commonly made by enthusiasts for nanotechnology. I argue that most people would be outraged to learn that the members of an unelected group were planning to radically reshape society in this fashion. I survey a number of arguments that might be used to block this analogy and argue that none of them justify drawing a sharp distinction between social change due to technology and change due to other political causes. Two things follow for discussions of the social impacts of nanotechnology. First, we need to reconsider the appropriateness of the language of technological revolution when talking about nanotechnology. The likely impacts of nanotechnology may be less dramatic than is often claimed. Second, if we do decide that the language of revolution is the appropriate one to use when talking about nanotechnology then we should acknowledge that any such revolution should be delayed until the public has had a chance to make a democratic decision about whether they wish their lives to be transformed in this way.
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