Friday, December 31, 2004

An economist's view of the impact of nanotechnology

Here is something I wrote about a year, but never bothered to post anywhere ...

Brad DeLong, an economics professor at the University of California, Berkeley, has an article about the economic impact of nanotechnology. He first outlines what he calls a framework for analyzing the impact of any 'technological revolution'. The following four questions of economic and social relevance form the essence of his framework:

  • "What commodities--what goods and services--become extraordinarily cheap as a result of the technological revolution?"
  • "What human activities--what jobs and skills--become key bottlenecks, and thus become remarkably valuable and well-paid?"
  • "What risks blindside the society as the technology spreads?"
  • "What risks do people guard against that turn out not to be risks at all?"

He illustrates his framework by applying it to the British Industrial Revolution. He then goes on to examine the nanotechnology revolution, and poses the all-important question: "Will nanotechnology be a set of tightly-focused technologies revolutionizing small discrete sectors of the economy, or will it be broad and long-lasting?". The rest of his post is (not a very convincing) speculation about how nanotechnology might pan out, and about its possible economic and social consequences. His article is a little too US-centric for my taste; on the positive side, it gives us an interesting way to look at things, and it is not too long. Strongly recommended!