As someone who has written two books on the topic of nanotechnology, including The Next Big Thing is Really Small: How Nanotechnology Will Change the Future of Your Business, I’m well aware of the field’s immense potential. As a professional futurist, however, I am always cautioning my clients to be aware of “black swans”–or large unexpected events–and I often go to get pains to explain how these unanticipated events might alter the future in unexpected ways.
To this end, a new study is out suggesting that nickel nanoparticles may contribute to lung cancer. It is too soon to get overly excited about the study but it does serve as a cautionary reminder to proponents of nanotechnology (such as myself) that the field* is not without some big risks.
Lest anyone need a reminder, some 90 years ago everyone was bullish on a new wonder technology: asbestos. Today, of course, we have a decidedly different and more negative opinion of the stuff.
Could the same be true of certain nanoparticles in the future?
The qualified answer is: Yes.
*It’s not really fair to describe nanotechnology as “a field” because it is such a broad discipline. I use the term in this context because the public, regulators and politicians are unlikely to be overly discriminatory when weighing the pros and cons of different nano-particles, nano-materials and nanotechnologies. In short, if one nanoparticle gets a “black eye” the whole “field” will suffer.