NANOTECH – THE NEW FRANKENSTEIN

Protests hit Clinique cosmetics launch

A crowd of two thousand people dressed in their best impression of Frankenstein’s ‘monster’ gathered around the entrance of Macy’s in New York yesterday to protest against the launch of Clinique’s new range of beauty products – branded NanoSparkle.

Protestors were angry at the fact that the company had ignored persistent pleas to regulate nano-particles in beauty products.

Clinique’s position is simple: “We have shown that the health and beauty benefits are significant – protection from UV, vitamin boosts for the skin and distinct anti-ageing qualities.”

“There has been no research that has shown up any negative consequences. We believe that extremist fears of catastrophic damage to the environment are entirely without foundation. We will not be held hostage by these economic terrorists.”

In five years, we have seen more than 1000 US protests against nanotech, outpacing the rate of the 1990s European protests against GM foods.

Since the death of five protestors in Atlanta in the Christmas ‘consumer war’ of 2006, nanotech has captured the American imagination and become the most used term in newspaper headlines.

Somehow, fears of terrorism have been replaced in the popular conscience by fear of nanotechnology. A string of books and movies in the past years has fuelled a fire that now seems unstoppable.

(Read the full story in the detailed Analysis/Synthesis section – for subscribers only)


ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be

Background:

WHAT IS NANOTECH?
Nanotechnology is the science of building machines and materials at the molecular level, where key components are measured in nanometers, or one-billionth of a meter. Nanotechnology applications now being developed range from the fantastic (a supercomputer small enough to fit in your hand) to the mundane (stain-resistant khakis and longer-lasting tennis balls). Source: Fortune.com

Nanotech was born in 1959 with a speculation at Caltech by Nobel Prize-winning physicist Richard Feynman that tiny things could be engineered to build big things; manufacturing, Feynman hinted, could be molecular. In 1986, Eric Drexler turned that speculation into a book, Engines of Creation, and then six years later, an MIT dissertation.
In January 2000, Bill Clinton went to Caltech to launch the National Nanotechnology Initiative – a promise of billions from the federal treasury to find ways to make nanotech an economic reality.
In May 2000, Bill Joy, one of the co-founders of Sun, poured terror on Feynman’s idea. In an article published in Wired magazine (“Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us”) he linked nanotech with other sciences that scientists shouldn’t pursue.

The reality is that today the biggest source of harmful nanoparticles is combustion – soot spewed by vehicle engines and power plants. But a new set of technologies are taking us into a brave new world.

2004: Best and worst of times for Nanotech
Greenpeace gives nanotech its guarded blessing, but protest are starting to rumble up from the underworld.
With growing media coverage about nanotech’s potential risks, and a movie version of Michael Crichton’s nano-horror novel “Prey” in the works, leaders are wrestling with how the industry should respond to critics.

2007: Nano-accident creates holiday crisis
A small but freak accident at a production plant in Florida has created a massive public scare in the midst of the Christmas holiday season. A gas canister explosion at NoBigThing Inc’s plant blew up the production line for NASA’s Space Shuttle nano-assemblers. The debris were scattered for miles and drifted across the shallow Everglade swamps. Some made it as far as Miami’s suburban gardens.
NASA insisted that the stock of nano-particles that are the raw material for the assemblers were ‘natural’ materials to be found in every neighborhood. Nobody believed them.
A story in the Miami Herald was the first to link this event to Michael Crichton’s blockbuster movie ‘Prey’ (a nanotech Jurassic Park) that had premiered across the USA two months before. It was quickly syndicated right across the USA. “Grey Goo invades Florida homes – when will the strong winds bring it to your neighborhood?”
Holiday-makers were rushed through clean rooms and disinfected. Pets had to be treated before their owners could take them home.
Even the winter snow in New York and Washington became suspicious as newspapers hyped the possibility of nano-contamination in the weather.

2008: Protests reach crisis point
The protests started in earnest as the weather improved in April of 2008.
Everything with nano-components was fair game.
There were protests about sun lotions, data projectors, new cancer drugs, air bag releases and carbon nanotubes. Suddenly the normally technology-placid American public wanted to know which nano components were in which everyday products.
Manufacturers reacted badly, categorizing the protestors as “unaware” and “misguided”. As protest grew, government stepped in and, by year-end, was passing new legislation to protect consumers.

2009: Clinique launches NanoSparkle cosmetics
A crowd of two thousand protestors targets Macy’s in New York and Clinique’s new range of beauty products – branded NanoSparkle.
Protestors were angry at the fact that the company had ignored persistent pleas to regulate nano-particles in beauty products.
Clinique’s statement: “We have shown that the health and beauty benefits are significant – protection from UV, vitamin boosts for the skin and distinct anti-ageing qualities.
“There has been no research that has shown up any negative consequences. We believe that extremist fears of catastrophic damage to the environment are entirely without foundation. We will not be held hostage by these economic terrorists.”
Somehow, fears of terrorism have been replaced in the popular conscience by fear of nanotechnology. A string of books and movies in 2003 to 2006 fuelled a fire that now seems unstoppable.

2010: The moral high ground?
As usual, the moral high ground is presumed to be in the hands of the protestors.
You think we would have learned something from the GM-food debacle which has only now dimmed. GM-foods have become just ‘foods’, now that we understand that we can no longer tell what is and what is not GM.
Manufacturers and scientists may just learn to create partnerships with consumers BEFORE they are seen to foist their products on ‘unsuspecting’ individuals.
In the end, the choice and the power is ours.

Warning: Hazardous thinking at work

Despite appearances to the contrary, Futureworld cannot and does not predict the future. Our Mindbullets scenarios are fictitious and designed purely to explore possible futures, challenge and stimulate strategic thinking. Use these at your own risk. Any reference to actual people, entities or events is entirely allegorical. Copyright Futureworld International Limited. Reproduction or distribution permitted only with recognition of Copyright and the inclusion of this disclaimer.