Emerging technologies, in their varied forms and scope, are transforming the world of work, how business entities function, change and progress, and the nature of leadership, managerial and professional careers within the context of the 21st century’s business environment.
Indeed, these technologies have evolved into fundamental components of business, industry, and commerce throughout the world, driving growth and competitiveness of organizations to unprecedented levels (Forster 1).
Consequently, governments and industry are investing heavily in these technologies with a view to harnessing the raw power that derives from them, particularly in providing a framework for organizations to be innovative and to offer new and improved processes for competitive advantage (King & Gibbs 33).
It is the purpose of this paper to evaluate one such technology known as nanotechnology, and to put into perspective some of its advantages and disadvantages within the business context.
Nobel Prize winner Richard Smaller defined nanotechnology as “…the creation of materials that have new and unique properties because of their extremely small size” (King & Gibbs 34). Nanotechnology has also been described as the production and utilization of materials at the smallest possible scale, which scientists peg at 100 nanometers or possibly less (Davies, 3, 7).
Extant research has demonstrated that nanoparticles have been around since the prehistoric era in the form of combustion byproducts, but the field was not identified until 1959 when Nobel physicist Richard Feynman came up with the concept of the “staggeringly small” (Davies 8). Its potential impact on businesses remained unknown until several years ago (Forster 3).
As has been the case with other emerging technologies, nanotechnology has received mixed receptions characterized by elevated expectations of its potential benefits on the one hand, and reservations and fears about its potential consequences on the other. Below, the merits and demerits of nanotechnology are evaluated.
Advantages of Nanotechnology
Among the major advantages, nanotechnology is expected to present business organizations not only with new and improved processes and products but also with an expanded global market base (Canton 4). According to the National Science Foundation projections, the market for products that contain nanomaterials will hit the $1 trillion mark by 2015 (Davis 8; King & Gibbs 34).
Although there still exist a dearth of data on the number of organizations using nanotechnology, it is clear that these entities are increasingly using the technology to develop new and improved applications (e.g., car bumpers, composites etc), which are inarguably stronger, lighter, more reactive and more durable.
For example, nanotechnology has enabled technology firms to develop a new application in the name of iPod Nano, which uses Samsung memory microchips made “with precision” less than 100 nanometers (Davis & Gibbs 36). Such applications translate into new and emerging markets for business markets, along with improved performance and competitiveness for the entities involved.
Closely linked to the above advantage is that nanotechnology has allowed business organizations to become increasingly innovative as they attempt to enter new markets.
Courtesy of nanotechnology, consumers are now enjoying faster, smaller and enhanced hand-held devices and other electronics in the market, which translates into increased profitability for the companies manufacturing these innovative products (Foster 14). Such innovativeness drives prosperity and global competition (Canton 4)
The increasingly competitive business environment of the 21st century has caused many organizations to look for avenues for cost reduction, and nanotechnology provides one such avenue (Gilligan & Bowman 239).
Researchers and practitioners are in agreement that the controlled manufacturing processes which nanotechnology promises to make a reality will have a positive impact on the organization in terms of low-cost, economical production, and high output.
In equal measure, it can be argued that nanotechnology has afforded organizations the much-needed platform to develop miniaturized applications, which are in sync with the current market trends (Gilligan & Bowman 239).
For example, the high capacity memory chips found in the market today, courtesy of nanotechnology, has enabled firms to develop complex but miniaturized applications, such as the Apple iPads, which can be used to communicate and conduct business anywhere at the touch of the screen, hence serving as a stimulant for economic growth for organizations and governments (Forster 17).
As pointed out in one article, organizations operating in the industrial era stimulated growth by their ability to make things big, but those operating in the 21st-century attempt to stimulate growth through the power to make things tiny (Forster 2). Nanotechnology provides the much-needed platform for such miniaturization of products and, consequently, growth.
In information technology, available literature demonstrates that nanotechnology will make it possible for the development of “…even more powerful computing technologies, which may lead to the creation of the first artificial intelligent entities” (Forster 10).
Indeed, researchers and practitioners are predicting that the world’s first quantum computer (system will be 100 million times faster at processing data than the most powerful crop of contemporary supercomputers) could be ready for the market by the end of 2012.
These developments are beneficial not only in their ability to enable second-generation self-learning entities to be created but also in enabling people within organizations to delegate more mundane duties to these intelligent machines, which will be able to employ their “initiative”, provide suggestions and make decisions (Forster 10).
It is even suggested that these machines will also have the capacity to interpret and respond to human emotions.
While the above may be the direct benefits of quantum computers to the organization if nanotechnology will indeed be able to operationalize these trajectories into reality by the end of 2012, there exists a myriad of indirect organizational benefits in terms of: automating work processes; reducing overhead costs associated with staff employment; reducing operational costs; faster flow and exchange of information, and; tending to employees who may experience emotional breakdowns.
Of importance to note here is that nanotechnology will enable computers and information systems to “…evolve to an even higher level of complexity and sophistication, as the age-old distinction between technological and biological systems starts to dissolve and both starts to operate in tandem at the molecular level” (Forster 10).
These benefits, in combination or in isolation, will inarguably function to enhance competitiveness and profitability for the organizations involved while maintaining an emotionally stable and satisfied workforce.
Disadvantages of Nanotechnology
Among the disadvantages, researchers and practitioners are in agreement that the risks posed by nanotechnology bring into the limelight sweeping effects on the market cycles, manufacturing cycles, safety and security of employees, along with the safety, security, and well-being of consumers.
Indeed, the technology adds an exclusively new, and principally untested and unexplored, realm of potential risks spread across the entire spectrum of contemporary business environment (Forster 23).
Although organizations operates under risk through careful planning and forecasting, it becomes strenuous to forecast the possible risks associated with nanotechnology due to the fact that its an emerging technology, and hence the dearth of literature. It is these risks which cannot presently be forecasted using any available measure that puts many organizations adopting nanotechnology under immense strain (Kuzma & Priest 1689).
Available literature demonstrates that “…the characteristics that make engineered nanomaterials attractive in the first place – small size, large surface area, reactivity and other properties – are the same characteristics that may cause these particles, if released, to threaten human health and the environment” (King & Gibbs 34).
This view is supported by other analysts, who argue that there is increasing concern that a number of artificially engineered nanoparticles may be posing a human health risk to an estimated 1.5 million employees who are currently exposed to the nanoparticles in the respective workplaces, with the figures set to increase to approximately 3.5 by 2015 (Gilligan & Bowman 240).
Not only can nanoparticles be deposited in the lungs, resulting in negative health consequences for workers and consumers, but they can also access the brain through the nasal passages and even enter the body through the skin, situations which could potentially jeopardize the health and safety of people (Kuzma & Priest 1690).
The regulatory frameworks that exist to manage the usage of nanotechnology are, at best, haphazard (King & Gibbs 35).
Such a disposition is not good for business as potential users of the technologies may not have the know-how or the capacity to incorporate them into their business processes and systems without proper regulations from governments and other interested players.
Lack of streamlined regulations and lack of data on the use of nanotechnology translates to the fact that the public perception and awareness of the existing nanotechnologies is extremely low.
From the discussion, it is indeed clear that the capacity of nanotechnology to traditional transverse sectors holds incredible economic and social benefits (Canton para. 2). However, as with previous technological progressions, including the World Wide Web, such benefits are often accompanied by a range of potential disadvantages (Gilligan & Bowman 240).
The task, therefore, is for the organizations to strike a balance through which they can maximally benefit from nanotechnologies while exposing employees and workers to minimal risks.
Canton, James. The Strategic Impact of Nanotechnology on the Future of Business and Economics. Institute for Global Futures, 2001. Web.
Davies, Clarence J. Managing the Effects of Nanotechnology. (n.d.). Web.
Forster, Nick. “The Impact of Emerging Technologies on Business, Industry, Commerce, and Humanity during the 21st Century.” Vision 10.4 (2006): 1-27.
Gilligan, George, & Diana Bowman. “Netting Nano: Regulatory Challenges of the Internet and Nanotechnologies.” International Review of Law, Computers & Technology 22.3 (2008): 231-246.
King, Gregory E., & Larry Gibbs. “The Little Known.” Industrial Engineer 42.7 (2010): 33-37.
Kuzma, Jennifer, & Susanna Priest. “Nanotechnology: Risk, and Oversight: Learning Lessons from Related Emerging Technologies.” Risk Analysis: An International Journal 30.11 (2010): 1688-1698.