Emerging Technologies And Impact On Business And Society Commerce Essay


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Over the last decade, emerging technologies have no doubt influenced almost every sector of society and business. Whether by their promise of better society and business or by the curse of disquiet etched in their wings; Robotics and Nanotechnology, among a few other emerging technologies, have certainly played a part in shaping today's business and society for tomorrow.

The emergence of Nanotechnology and Robotics was, to some extent, instigated and inspired by certain fundamental needs and pursuits of society and business. The business desire for cost-efficiency and society's pursuit of sustainability in the form of better health care, a cleaner environment, security, etc are just a glimpse of what may have triggered the emergence of these among other technologies. However, the technologies' success, or lack of it, is to a large extent dependent on, the overall short and long term, how well they respond to the primary needs and pursuits of businesses and society.

This report focuses on Nanotechnology and Robotics discussing some of their varied range of practical, theoretical and experimental applications. The report, in essence, draws from the diverse applications of these two technologies, their implications and impacts on businesses and society hitherto and perhaps in the near future. The analysis, also acknowledges and draws from lessons learnt in preceding and contemporary technologies such as genetic engineering and nuclear energy. The analysis shows that the success of the technologies depends on their close evolutionary interaction with their resident businesses and society which are also changing in response albeit at a different pace.


The influence of emerging technologies on almost every sector of business and society cannot be overstated over the last decade. Whether by their promise of better society and business or by the curse of disquiet etched in their wings; Robotics and Nanotechnology, among other emerging technologies in the frontline, have certainly played a part in shaping today's business and society for tomorrow.

The emergence of Nanotechnology and Robotics may, to some extent, have been instigated and inspired by certain fundamental needs and pursuits of society and business. The desire for greater efficiency - cost or otherwise in business, better health care, a cleaner environment, security and etc for sustainable society are just a glimpse of pursuits that may have triggered the emergence of these two among other technologies. However, just as their preceding or contemporary counterparts such as genetic engineering, their success, or lack of it, is to a large extent dependent on the overall short and long term impact they portend for business and society.

Robotics and Nanotechnology are two among the foremost of countless emerging technologies ushered into the new century whose impact on society and business is yet to be fully realised or determined. Determining the impacts of these two is no simple task. The range of applications for these two technologies, whether already practical or still theoretical, is quite enormous and diverse making it even more difficult for one to establish the full extent of their impact. There is however no doubt that these two have had their share of both positive and negative impacts on business and society and will continue to during their evolution. Whatever the impacts, their measure may be drawn from how businesses and society have responded so far. Many studies done on these technologies indicate enormous initial investments by businesses and more recently, measured but nonetheless important investments by society.

Nano-scale technology or Nanotechnology has been defined generally as "the creation of functional materials, devices, and systems through control of matter on the nanometer (1 to 100+ nm) length scale and the exploitation of novel properties and phenomena developed at that scale." [1]

Nanotechnology, just as many other technologies before, has especially pledged enormous benefits for businesses and society. Many studies indicate enormous initial investments by businesses and more recently, measured but nonetheless important investments by society anticipating mostly the benefits it promises. Nonetheless the studies also show that it bears its own brand of curses or threats alike especially for society. Some of the threats may well be known, anticipated and resolved in good time. Others may only be revealed later on in its evolution. Either way, it is imperative that its benefits and identifiable threats be reasonably considered and embedded in their evolution if these two, among others related, are going to succeed.

On the other hand, a robot is generally defined as "a reprogrammable, multifunctional manipulator designed to move material, parts, tools, or specialized devices through various programmed motions for the performance of a variety of tasks" (Robot Institute of America, 1979)[15]. Robotics is thus concerned mainly with the study, design, building and operation of robot systems for certain specialised tasks [14].

Business and society's desire for greater efficiency - cost and better health care, a cleaner environment, security etc respectively also continue to inspire heavy investments in more cost-efficient technologies. Achieving these either by automation, miniaturisation or by the use of better building blocks or materials for technology and products are among the main approaches that converge research and development of Robotics and Nano-scale technology or Nanotechnology among other related technologies.

Apart from the brief introduction above, this report is organized into two main sections. The first section covers a brief description on the fundamentals of Nanotechnology. This section is followed by discussions on some of the principle practical, theoretical and experimental applications tracing and focusing on their impact on business and society. The second section deals with robotics and likewise describing the fundamentals of robot systems. This section too is followed by an examination of the major applications of robotics with a focus on their impact on society and business.


As mentioned in the introduction, Nanotechnology generally involves engineering at the nano-scale level (1 to100nm) leveraging novel properties and phenomena of matter at this scale. The concept of engineering at this scale may well be attributed to Feyman (1959) [2]. Modern understanding of Nanotechnology as defined above was built on the initial concept by other eminent scholars like Drexler (1992) [3]. Merkle (1997) [4] also went on to propose additional concepts like building materials by specifically positioning each atom and cost effective mass-assembly of the atoms

At the close of the last century in 2000, presented with the anticipated advances and subsequent benefits of Nanotechnology by proponents such as Drexler (1992)[3], Merkle (1997)[4] among others, galvanized leaders in technological research and development, cutting edge innovation and business to converge and discuss extensively the implications of engineering at this scale. At a workshop organized by the United States National Science Foundation (NSF), leading experts gathered and to present their views on Nanotechnology and its implications focusing its potential applications in business and society. A resulting report on the proceedings of the workshop presents rather varied views and perpectives, perhaps due to the diverse applications of the technology or backgrounds of the participants. However, the urgent need for a foundational and comprehensive analysis of the technology and its implications seems to be the leading theme. This was a defining moment in the evolution of Nanotechnology. Below is a summary of nanotechnology's focus and principle applications as reported in the NSF (2001) [5] workshop and are being refined with time as shown in the National Nanotechnology Initiative Strategic Plan (2007) [6]:

Industrial Manufacturing - Materials and products, Chemical Processing

Electronics - application in Information Technologies and Communications

Medicine and Health - applications in Medicine and Pharmaceuticals.

Aerospace - For aerospace and planetary exploratory applications.

Transportation and civil infrastructure - Lighter Materials

Sustainability - in Energy, Water, Agriculture & Food, Materials, Clean environment

Defence and Security applications.

Even though the current and potential applications of nanotechnology reach deeper than revealed by the above summary, there is no doubt that the above applications have impacted both businesses and society over the last decade in one way or another. Some researchers have even suggested at the emergence of Nanotechnology signalling the entry into the "Age of Transitions" [6] [7] there would be profound waves of change whether in society or business.

Impact of Nanotechnology on business

Every category of application highlighted above is representative of a range of industries and businesses that have already responded to, or must soon do so, to the diverse and vast influences, potential or practical, wielded by Nanotechnology. Some of these influences are certainly not unique to nanotechnology and may have been wielded by contemporary and preceding technologies. Others, however, such as the rapid parallel advances in research and development hardly witnessed by preceding technologies have compelled many a business in any of the application categories to reconfigure itself and its approach. These cycles of reconfiguration will even be more rapid when Nanotechnology converges with other emerging technologies that portend similar characteristics. Good examples are traffic on the internet; wireless capacity and computing performance which are said to double every 6, 9 and 18 months respectively [7].

Industrial Manufacturing: Nanoscale engineering of materials and products forms the bulk of current and perhaps even future applications of nanotechnology in industrial manufacturing. This has witnessed the introduction of new materials and products and thus new markets for businesses over the last 10 years. The U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF) forecasted the 2010 - 2015 Nanotechnology market at over 1 trillion US dollars as shown in the chart below.

Chart 1: Estimates of the nanotechnology market - by 2010-2015

USD trillions: 1.1

Source: National Science Foundation

Subsequent research (RNCOS research) [8] has upwardly revised estimates within half the period settling at 1.6 trillion USD by the year 2013. The market estimates probably continue to inspire a steady increase in investment. Cientifica estimated the global government funding stood at a little less than 9.75 billion USD for nanotechnology. The US government alone invested 1.6 billion USD a steady increase from about 500 billion in 2001. [8]

Apart from specialized materials such as nano-composite polymers and other nanoscale structured materials and chemicals; the inventory list of consumer products with a nanotech component currently stands at over 800 and will obviously continue to grow [9]. With this kind of diversity in terms of products and an expanding market, businesses, especially those in manufacturing, will do well to quickly adapt continue their success.

Electronics: The potential application of nanotechnology in electronics is set to take the miniaturisation of computers to the next level. It is also set to improve the cost-efficiency and performance of electronic products even introducing product variation that have been hitherto unrealistic. [10]

Figure 1: Manufacturing cost projection for logic at silicon-area and transistor levels as illustrated by Doering (2000) [5]

As shown in Figure 1, the cost of achieving electronic function is on the decline thus inspiring the continued introduction of new electronic products and business and a consequent the market for the products. This will no doubt also augment advances in related areas such as telecommunications further opening up opportunities for business as illustrated in Doering's (2000) [5] projections in Figure 2 below.

Figure 2: Illustrates projected growth of electronic market place with decreasing feature sizes and function cost. Doering (2000) [5]

Medicine and Health: Nanotechnology has been applied in medicine, healthcare and pharmaceuticals to introduce better drug delivery and diagnosis mechanisms (targeted) [10] [11]. The resulting advances achieved hitherto continue to attract, not just government funding, but private businesses and organizations are also joining the fray investing themselves in nanotech medicine and healthcare. Of course there's the prospect, albeit some of it being still experimental, of resolving age old problems like cancer.

Figure 3: An illustration of Nanotech funding Adapted from ETC Nanotech Report (2006) [11]

There is also the prospect of making viable, products that have previously not been viable for business. The overall positive impact of nanotechnology on business related to medicine and health care is that it introduces a new range of products subsequently expanding the existing markets or even reconfiguring them all together [5], [10]. Some studies estimated the world market's expansion for these products from 1 billion USD in 2005 to be tenfold at 10billion USD by 2010 [11].

On the flipside, an expanding product base also means the introduction of products that carry along with them originally unintended effects or even products that are downright harmful to the business side of medicine and healthcare [10] [11].

Aerospace: Businesses and organizations in aerospace research and development have also invested themselves quite heavily with the intention of reaping some of the benefits of Nanotech application over the last decade or so. The introduction or potential introduction of lighter, stronger nanostructured materials or building blocks for aerospace equipment can only portend a positive outlook for this business since this ultimately implies an eventual reduction in costs e.g. in fuelling as well as wholesome aerospace projects [10].

Transportation and civil infrastructure: - Lighter high-strength materials developed through nanotechnology implies a reduction of costs; whether in fuelling or maintenance in transportation and infrastructural developments.

Impact of Nanotechnology on society

The almost definitive nature of business, at least in objective makes much simpler the exercise of nanotechnologies impacts on business. This however, is not the case when it comes to determining societal implications and impacts brought about by technologies; nano or otherwise. Many attempted studies at this exercise acknowledge this difficulty [5] [10]. The period of time required for one to actually determine a certain technology's impact on society as well as the often unpredictable nature of society have been cited in the studies among major challenges to the accuracy of determining societal implication of technology; nanotechnology in this case.

The impact of nanotechnology and its related advances on society hinges on certain major areas of life that are important to the makeup of that society. Below are some of the major areas cited by some studies like the NSF (2001) [5] report on Societal Implications of Nanoscience and Nanotechnology and the Royal Society & Royal Academy of Engineering (2004) [10] report on Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties:

Health care: Among the benefits pledged by nanotechnology, certain applications are meant to improve the quality of health care. Society at an individual level desires health and long life. New products and technologies such as targeted drug delivery mechanisms and diagnostics introduced by nanoscale engineering for health care promise a healthy and quality for individuals and society as a whole. [11]

On the flipside, some products developed through nanotechnology also pose a threat to health. Some nanomaterials and particles have presented hazardous characteristics to human health and performance. Analyses and studies on some of the nano products and technologies which present unintended health hazards recommend responsible research and application of nanotechnologies [5].

Sustainability: Society looks for the sustainability of the resources that are its lifeblood. The current application and potential of Nanotechnology focusing on sustainable energy, water supply, agriculture & food, materials and clean environment directly impact on the society's quality of life.

Energy applications of nanotechnology pursue a parallel advance in achieving sustainable energy building on existing technologies. The threesome approach deals with: efficient energy conversion from primary form using a number of nanotech mechanisms e.g, nano-engineered solar cells, efficient storage energy storage through the use of supercapacitors developed through nanotechnology, and efficient energy saving mechanisms e.g. through the use of better thermoinsulators created using by nanomaterials [12]

Sustainable energy is tightly bound with a clean environment. Achieving the former dramatically improves the later.

Water supply is also an issue of concern for society where nanotech products and approaches are being used to improve the level of water supply either e.g. using nanotech for desalination. Agriculture and food production are also set to benefit from sustained research and development of nanotech application to agriculture.

Defence and Security applications: Defence and security have long inspired the emergence of technologies perhaps because societies have often been reconfigured by conflict. The practical or even just the potential applications of nanotechnology to defence and security either in military weaponry and equipment or in intelligence continue to profoundly affect society. [5]

A fundamental concern for society is who controls the resulting advances of nanotechnology thus raising legal and ethical issues. Studies show that society needs to respond at a quicker pace by being involved right from the get-go, putting in place and redefining policy mechanisms, regulation and control of these technologies [10].

Education and Culture: A combination of nanotechnology and other contemporary technologies such as Biotechnology and Information Technology portends a true "Age of Transitions" for society as has been argued by some experts [7]; a time when social structures and cultures are rapidly reconfigured and reengineered by a rapid technological evolution and eventual revolution.


Robotics is area of emerging technologies that involves the study, design, construction and operation of robot system(s). Slightly variable definitions of a robot to encompass humanlike characteristics describe a broadened modern concept of robotics [13].

The application of Robotics, since the first practical realization of the concept in the early 60s, has increasingly worked its way into many sectors of today's business and society. The primary application of robotics has mostly to do with tasks that are either too dangerous or those that are too repetitive and too precise for humans. In essence, robotics seeks to enhance human performance. The general areas in business and society that continue to benefit from application of robotics in include [14]:

Industrial, mainly in manufacturing either in precise or repetitive assembly repair among others - so far the most established application of robotics.

Healthcare - performing complex and precise surgical procedures such as Radiosurgery, Tele-robotic surgery among other medical procedures.

Aerospace, Military and security - performance of dangerous and precise tasks relating to defence and security example of practical applications include the unmanned aerials and ground vehicles for surveillance, reconnaissance and exploration of hazardous environment.

Agriculture -

Disaster Recovery and Infrastructure - again, the use of robotics for the recovery and sometime repair of dangerous environments and difficult to reach areas of infrastructure respectively.

Consumer Robotics - for day-to-day tasks and service provision - the least developed area of robotics but picking up pace.

Impact of Robotics on business

The robotics' principle inspiration of enhancing human performance and the fundamental objectives of increasing productivity and quality in business foreshadow the impact of robotics in business. The application of advancing robotics to various areas of traditional business has and continues to compel change in business design and approach. Business and organizations trading in the primary areas of robotics application have had to reconfigure themselves inspired by this change.

In many ways, the impact of robotics on manufacturing business foreshadows the impact of robotics on almost all other areas of industrial robotics application. Manufacturing thus may well be viewed as representative of other areas Infrastructure development, Agriculture and healthcare.

Manufacturing: the extensive industrial application of robotics has, to a large extent, improved the efficiency of manufacturing businesses that have properly invested themselves in the potency of robotics. Case studies on some of these businesses show marked improvements in their performance, quality. Chrysler, for example, a leading automobile manufacturer was able to cut cost and improve its flexibility by remodelling its business for the market and by leveraging advanced robotics. Their application of robotics enabled them to cost-efficiently produce a wider range of products [16].

The increasing need for application of robotics in other manufacturing areas like packaging and processing is also opening up new business opportunities for robotics. The trend in manufacturing now is that more and more businesses are inclined to robotics and related automation for their existence.

However, although the benefits of applying robotics are worthwhile on the long term for business, the initial investments are, more often than not, prohibitive. This has been the case and will probably continue to hound business into the next generation. Parallel advances in complimentary technologies however likely to mitigate problem.

In healthcare, apart from the performance of repetitive tasks, the cutting edge application of robotics is mostly towards the performance of highly complex surgical procedures. However, robotics application here is tightly bound to the human in the sense that robots are not autonomous.

Consumer robotics is a fairly new application area that involves a much smaller scale of applications compared to industrial. This might be at the product distribution level like dispensing machines...

Military and security: investments in robotics for military and security use are leading the advance in robotics as a technology through research and development. Often, the output of these advances translates to new business opportunities when converted or modified for civilian applications. Contemporary technologies such the internet and wireless telecommunication were first military and defence technologies before they became commercialized for business.

Aerospace applications: Robotics application in exploratory research and development like aerospace are also contributing to the advancement of robotics and in turn inspiring fresh business area applications such as infrastructure maintenance and transport.

Impact of Robotics on society

As mentioned above, robotics portends to improve and enhance human performance. To some extent, this does impact society positively. A society's health and safety is improved for instance by the use of robots to perform dangerous and hazardous tasks.

However, large scale industrial robotics application may mean job losses especially when robots begin to replace human workers. The implications here are far reaching. Apart from the short term effects of conflict, there is the long term reconfiguration of society to accommodate the changes. In the long term, education and training and other related areas have to be reviewed.

There are also broader societal issues such as the need for environment sustainability where robotics portends both positive and negative impacts.

The application of robotics in military defence, weaponry and security such as the use unmanned aerial vehicles for surveillance revisits the concern of who controls technologies thus raising legal and ethical issues.

Robotics and other complimentary technologies continue to influence social evolution by directly effecting change in education and social culture. In other worlds robotics has contributed to the change in the way we live our lives. There is an increasing societal dependence on technologies even though they don't resolve age old societal challenges such as poverty and justice.


Emerging of technologies often invite scrutiny in the interest of business and society - the ultimate consumers of technology. Nanotechnology and Robotics are no different. This scrutiny, as has been illustrated in this report, often takes the form of assessments on the impacts of these technologies on business and society. Again, as shown, assessing and articulating the impacts of technologies is not a simple exercise - especially when they are just emerging. It is often a process informed by diverse and sometimes opposing views from leading experts and representatives from society and business. In the end, the impacts identified, positive or negative, define the viability of an emerging technology.

The assessment of Nanotechnology and Robotics in this report, perhaps because of the width and depth of their potential applications, yields an overall positive outlook for business and society and in turn for their success as emerging technologies.

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