New, high-risk technologies, ranging from the very small (synthetic biology, nanotechnology) to the very large (geoengineering), are being rapidly developed. Promoters promise solutions, but the precautionary principle and social and economic impacts are often ignored in the rush to deploy the latest technofix. Without the strict application of the precautionary principle, and a transparent and real participatory way to assess impacts, these new technologies could wreak more havoc on our already fragile planet, battered by reckless and unsustainable forms of production. To deal with the onslaught of ever more powerful technologies, civil society organizations, movements, indigenous peoples and peasant organizations need to self-organize to create Technology Observation Platforms (TOPs).
Nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of matter on the scale of the nanometer (one billionth of a meter). Nanoscale science operates in the realm of single atoms and molecules. At present, commercial nanotechnology involves materials science (i.e. researchers have been able to make materials that are stronger and more durable by taking advantage of property changes that occur when substances are reduced to nanoscale dimensions). As nanoscale molecular self-assembly becomes a commercial reality, nanotech will move into conventional manufacturing and it is already changing healthcare, food and drug production. Nanotechnology involves profound social , military and environmental risks, with new nanomaterials potentially threatening raw material economies of the south and posing new health risks to workers and the public at large.