WorldChanging: Nanotechnology and the Developing World: "the Global Dialogue on Nanotechnology and the Poor [is] a project intended to trigger a conversation about the ways in which nanotechnology can be applied to the problems of development and poverty. Anyone may participate .." SciDevNet covers the conference and has an introduction to the material. The 29-page report covers risks as well as benefits, with a useful appendix showing the UN Millenium Goals for reference.
This has been a major interest of mine since 2000. The bottom line for me came down to two things: nano-engineered materials for energy and water. Nanotech's first fruits are a new universe of materials with electrical and chemical properties that will offer new options to engineers of all goods, including those meeting basic needs. It's like plastics a century ago; we're at the start of a decades-long absorbtion of new possibilities, both good and bad. This time the changes will come faster, sped up by computer-aided design and manufacturing. (Nano-assembly, whenever it arrives, will only further add to the changes.)
For developing countries, the key benefits are in the basics for manufacturing and urban life.
- purified or desalinated water
- distributed electric generation and new options for fuel, ideally from renewable sources with hydrogen and/or battery storage of power
- more efficient use of energy and materials overall
I think this will be on balance good for the environment, in its greater material efficiency. However, nano-engineered materials will also be applied to increase the efficiency of raw material extraction, such as taking fossil fuels from the earth faster and cheaper. It will also give rise to more extravagant ways to use energy in the developed world, perhaps super-sonic transport, large-scale military applications, or ever-larger interiors for housing and commerce. I am optimistic that enough funding and volunteer attention will be given to pollution-reducing and poverty-alleviating applications to tip the balance. (I think that the top-down and exploitative applications have been refined so much already, that it's probably easier for researchers and innovators to have a big impact in the less-explored sustainable applications.) 1:37:18 AM