The Obama Administration is doing its part to further the goal of continual expansion of technology and its uses. The United States remains a leader in this arena, with many areas on display. According to President Obama's State of the Union speech two nights ago, science and technology are a centerpiece of his Administration.
Obama's shift from a military budget to one that reinvests in technology is a sign that might signal more applications in other areas that will help the fight to save our planet. Yet, neither Obama or his past, existing and proposed investments have done much about the dangers of nanotechnology.
Indeed, as seen below, his changes to the budget for nanotechnology investment may show a predilection in the opposite direction at least for the dangers of this technology.
The environmental and other dangers of nanotechnology are well-documented. The most recent study on this question, released yesterday by the National Nanotechnology Initiative started by George W. Bush, indicates more study is still needed. This follows a 2008 report indicating the same thing. Why has Obama not acted more aggressively regarding this potentially dangerous technology? More importantly, why is this now being dramatically expanded in the face of these continuing dangers?
There are few guideposts on the other Presidential contenders positions on the environment. Republicans in Congress and current Republican presidential candidates arguably have shown a stronger bias toward corporate incentives and the military which can be presumed to include the expansion of technology. But for this technology and most other environmental issues, none of the candidates or the president pass muster.
While many remember President George W. Bush's interactions with science that Democrats regularly assailed, such as his position on human embryo research and uses and evolution, few know that he followed President Bill Clinton's lead in promoting United States research and incentives for the development of nanotechnology.
The article on nanotechnology in Wikipedia is exceptionally lucid and informative about this science, focusing on the manipulation of materials at the molecular level.
Nanotechnology is the engineering of functional systems at the molecular scale. This covers both current work and concepts that are more advanced. In its original sense, nanotechnology refers to the projected ability to construct items from the bottom up, using techniques and tools being developed today to make complete, high performance products.
The significance of nanotechnology to our future cannot be over-emphasized. Uses in all forms of science, from cures for cancer to the creation of entirely new materials, nanotechnology can provide immense and new scientific alternatives in both processes and products that can be a boon to mankind.
As with all science, there are many implications and pitfalls with the development of nanotechnology. And as with all technology, there are many implications that have more to do with killing humans rather than providing them with a better life.
The marriage of nanotechnology and the United States Department of Defense is documented although the precise expenditures are difficult to trace. What is this money being used for?
While there are general statements about uses, including the increasing use of nanotechnology in researching new manufacturing processes, some uses are as follows.
First, nano-materials massively damage the lungs. Ultra fine particles from diesel machines, power plants and incinerators can cause considerable damage to human lungs. This is both because of their size (as they can get deep into the lungs) and also because they carry other chemicals including metals and hydrocarbons in with them.
Second, nano-particles can get into the body through the skin, lungs and digestive system. This may help create free radicals that can cause cell damage. There is also concern that once nano-particles are in the bloodstream, they will be able to cross the blood-brain barrier.
Third, the human body has developed a tolerance to most naturally occurring elements and molecules that it has contact with. It has no natural immunity to new substances and is more likely to find them toxic.
Fourth, the most dangerous Nano-application use for military purposes is the Nano-bomb that contain engineered self multiplying deadly viruses that can continue to wipe out a community, country or even a civilization.
Other countries also have research programs into nanotechnology. The precise nature of those programs may be obscured from view, as are the expenditures by our own military.
But it is safe to presume that some research is occurring in at least the four areas identified above.
The seemingly benign projects currently underway to determine the problems of nanotechnology in the area of cosmetics can and probably are linked to military uses. Thus, nano-like particles are currently in use for facial creams and other products that are largely uncontrolled by the Federal Drug Administration or any other agency. They also can be manipulated and used in order better to understand how to invade the body for military uses.
The Department of Homeland Security is also working on nanotechnology. And well they should be. The information relating to the invasion of bodies and creation of nano-bombs make this fertile ground for terrorists and others.
Who is the better candidate to manage this science with growing dangers to the world and the United States? For that matter, why have we not done a better job considering and controlling these uses?
In 2008, the Bush Administration issued the first report dealing with the need for more research into the dangers of nanotechnology. The Obama Administration just issued the second.
What is clear from these and other documents is that the Obama Administration continues the same policies as those espoused by the Bush Administration. But, to some perhaps shockingly, the order of priorities for the Obama Administration has recently changed in favor of implementation of nanotechnology and away from fundamental research that will provide a more clear understanding of nanotechnology dangers, effects, and impacts.
According to Obama's 2011 nanotechnology supplemental budget:
For the first time in the NNI Budget request, funding for research on nanoscale devices and systems (PCA 3) has now overtaken fundamental nanoscale phenomena and processes (PCA 1) as the largest program component area, with $567 million requested for 2012, compared to $521 million for PCA 1. This reflects the evolution of basic research in some areas of nanotechnology to the successful development of nanotechnology-enabled devices and other applications, and the transition within the NNI to more use-inspired research.
The National Nanotechnology Initiative, first developed in 2003 by the Bush Administration, had as its primary priority the study of the phenomena and processes. The most recent has as its priority the development of other applications of nanotechnology, including presumably the continued efforts to create military uses potentially including the ones mentioned in the quote above dealing with such applications.
When coupled with the ongoing research into viruses with potentially globally catastrophic implications dealing with bird flu, we have to wonder what is being done by this president about these potentially life-ending issues on a global scale. This is particularly significant when a centerpiece for Obama's next four years is investment into science and technology that will certainly fuel further efforts in implementing this strategy.
The merits of the Keystone pipeline are questionable. But instead of raising them, the only commentary from Obama was that the project needed further research, making his approach vulnerable to the claim that this was a purely political approach to the issue.
It is time for the presidential candidates to be questioned on environmental issues. Yet, sadly, the vapid and largely immaterial questioning of the Republican candidates thus far on these issues means that they are likely to avoid this essential issue for the world's future.
Who would be the better person to manage these risks? We may never know.