Nanotech Solutions to the World's Biggest Challenges Can't be Plucked from a Tree

While emerging technologies are often offered as a solution to the challenges of the world, their development is allowed to languish

2 min read

I have been reading Andrew Maynard's and Tim Harper's reports of the Summit of the Global Agenda at the annual World Economic Forum Meeting in Dubai.

Maynard and Harper both seem to agree that while technology is often cited as a potential solution to climate change or world hunger, which ostensibly these meetings are supposed to solve, there is hardly a thought given to how these technologies are supposed to be developed most efficiently.

Harper quotes one participant from the meeting as saying, “you can’t just concentrate on the things you can understand and ignore everything else”. But on the contrary that’s exactly what policy wonks do. Technology to them is just some amorphous term that they plug into their formulas for change.

As Maynard explains:

“It wasn’t that delegates didn’t realize the importance of technology innovation. On the contrary, many of the recommendations coming out of the Summit acknowledged the need to develop and use appropriately new and emerging technologies. But there was a sense that technology innovation simply happens and that, as needs arise, solutions will naturally emerge.”

Or as Harper puts it:

“This lack of understanding engenders a belief that technology just happens, and that anyone who wants to find a solution to a pressing problem should merely walk into a technology orchard and pluck the required technologies from the trees.”

These arguments coincide with an earlier blog entry here in which it seems apparent to me that there is a huge disconnect between policy makers and the government official types who seem to think $x billion dollars into photovoltaic research or other alternative energies will translate overnight into foreign oil independence. You can fund $x trillion of dollars into this kind of research but with no functioning funding mechanisms for bringing that research to market it hardly matters.

Time for the policy types to start having a think about how these technologies that they are depending on for providing them the solutions to the world's challenges are supposed to come into being in the current framework


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