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Insurance Industry Warned of Nanotechnology Risks 165

Posted by michael
from the cookie-cutter dept.
SilentScream writes "Cordis reports that major reinsurance company Swiss Re has advised insurance companies that they may need to reconsider covering products manufactured using nanotechnology until more is known about any possible side effects of the technology. The recommendation is detailed in a 57-page report titled 'Nanotechnology - Small matter, many unknowns', which is available on the Swiss Re web site. The report acknowledges that further research is needed but outlines the possible effects of nanotechnology on the human brain and the potential for an asbestos-like threat."
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Insurance Industry Warned of Nanotechnology Risks

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  • Glad (Score:5, Interesting)

    by PktLoss (647983) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:35AM (#9266413) Homepage Journal
    I am glad to see some sort of forward thinking on the possible risks on this new technology. Though it surprises me to see the source isnt government regulation, but instead insurance hesitation.

    Capitolism Works?
    • Re:Glad (Score:5, Interesting)

      by mobiux (118006) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:40AM (#9266454)
      I am not sure why it would suprise you.

      Most insurance companies will go to great lengths to not have to cover a procedure.
      It's in their best financial interest to fully cover as little as possible.

      It was fairly recently that even pregnancy coverage was mandated by the government.
      • Re:Glad (Score:2, Interesting)

        by das_cookie (619577)
        Most insurance companies will go to great lengths to not have to cover a procedure.

        That's not necessarily so. What they will do is go to great lengths to understand the risks they are taking to cover a hazard. They have to do this - to not understand the ramifications of a risk before covering it is financial folly. And like it or not, the insurance companies are in the business of making money. They have based their rates on covering a known set of risks. If new risks are found, then either they must ex

      • Re:Glad (Score:3, Informative)

        We tend to be suprised because we are more used to thinking that businesses raise prices either to cover increased costs or to take advantage of increased demand.

        In this case, if there are increased costs or demand for "nano-insurance" it is not obvious. More likely, companies who make profit by mitigating risk are *creating* new market space by spinning up the popular uncertainty/unfamiliarity of the new technology as "risk."
    • Re:Glad (Score:5, Interesting)

      by thefirelane (586885) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:45AM (#9266515)
      It only surprises you because you assume most things now run by the government were invented by it.

      First fire companies.... Yup, insurance companies protecting its assets
      First alarms about obesity in America... yup life insurance companies. This was back in the 1900s, when the government, and general opinion advised people to eat more and gain weight to combat "wasting diseases".

      Capitalism does indeed work, because it assigns things value. When things have a value they are protected.
      • Re:Glad (Score:3, Interesting)

        by I_M_Noman (653982)

        It only surprises you because you assume most things now run by the government were invented by it.

        First fire companies.... Yup, insurance companies protecting its assets

        Here in NYC, the first fire companies were actually created by neighborhood gangs back in the early- to mid-1800s. The rival gangs would sometimes fight over who got to a fire first and who should have the honor of putting it out -- to the point where occasionally the building would burn down while the rival gangs were fighting.

        • Re:Glad (Score:2, Funny)

          by duffbeer703 (177751)
          And also note that if the building didn't burn to the ground, the helpful volunteers would loot the building of its intact contents.
        • I wonder what makes you think the first fire companies were in NYC?

          They had a fire service in ancient rome. Brothels and corrupt city officials too!

          • He said "Here in NYC, the first fire companies were..."
            This indicates not that he believes they were the first fire companies in existence, but that he is referring to the first fire companies that existed in NYC.
          • Your English parsing skills need some work.
        • Re:Glad (Score:5, Interesting)

          by MaxQuordlepleen (236397) <el_duggio@hotmail.com> on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:59AM (#9266654) Homepage

          In the late Roman Republic, private fire companies were run like extortion rings. Crassus of the first Triumvirate was one of these folks. He would come up with his fire crew while your house burned down, and make a ridiculously low offer to buy the property. If he was refused, the fire company went home.

        • Here in NYC, the first fire companies were actually created by neighborhood gangs back in the early- to mid-1800s. The rival gangs would sometimes fight over who got to a fire first and who should have the honor of putting it out -- to the point where occasionally the building would burn down while the rival gangs were fighting.

          Please tell me you didn't get your history from watching "Gangs of New York" (just checking)
    • Re:Glad (Score:3, Funny)

      by kin_korn_karn (466864)
      Since, as we all know, capitalism is so much better than government, in every single way. Who needs an army? Who needs roads? We have STOCK, motherfucker! We should abolish all governments and re-organize our nations around corporate city-states.

      Being a resident of the St. Louis metro area, I would change from American to Anheuser-Buschian.

      Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.

      People are so fucking clueless.
      • Re:Glad (Score:1, Funny)

        by schemanista (739124)

        Aaah, to be 15 again.

        • Re:Glad (Score:2, Insightful)

          by kin_korn_karn (466864)
          The Young Republican/Ayn Randian contingent around here will all be dependent on a corporation someday, and that corporation will let them down. Maybe put them in a bad financial situation (unless they live in mommy's basement for their ENTIRE life, not just their entire young adult life). Will you all say, "thank you sir, may I have another?" Will you say that it was the right thing to fuck you over? Do you suffer from that much self-loathing?

          When you are dying in the gutter because you've sold the en
      • Since, as we all know, capitalism is so much better than government, in every single way.

        Since, as we all know, comparing economic theory to government is valid.
        Oh, wait....
    • I wouldn't go that far. I'm not sure the insurance companies want to insure anything.

      At least with my dad's experiences, it seems as if the insurance industry is practically unwilling to insure anything but tiny risks. My parents put in a pool, diving board and fence combination that went by national standards but the insurance company simply decided to yank house insurance. They are low risk people that only had made one minor claim in twenty years, but forget that, they have a pool now. My parents wo
    • Re:Glad (Score:2, Insightful)

      by Scott Richter (776062)
      I am glad to see some sort of forward thinking on the possible risks on this new technology. Though it surprises me to see the source isnt government regulation, but instead insurance hesitation.

      I truly mean no offense, but the way you phrase your statement - "*this* new technology" - belies the fact that you (like the insurance companies here) don't know what nanotechnology *is*.

      First, nanotech is a very loose definition for anything small. It isn't a technology - it is a very heterogeneous collection o

    • Re:Glad (Score:3, Interesting)

      by AchilleTalon (540925)
      There is nothing closer to democracy (or even socialism) than an insurance company.

      An insurance company is not much more than a collection of individuals grouped together to share the risk each one represent and help each other in case something goes wrong. So, each one is interested to be better covered at the lowest price. From this, everything else can be predicted...

      • Re:Glad (Score:3, Insightful)

        by greenrd (47933)
        An insurance company is not much more than a collection of individuals grouped together to share the risk each one represent and help each other in case something goes wrong.

        With one crucial difference. It is a profit-seeking entity which would heartlessly deny coverage to a kid dying of cancer if it thought it could get away with it. Unlike a community that was genuinely interested in helping each other even if it might mean some sacrifice.

        So, each one is interested to be better covered at the lowest

  • oh, come on (Score:2, Funny)

    by millahtime (710421)
    nano tech didn't hurt Jake 2.0

    It made him faster, stronger and able to control computers with his mind.
  • Yeah right (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Neurotoxic666 (679255)
    "Are these invisible particles dangerous to our breathing? What happens if nanotechnologically manufactured products end up on the refuse dump and their particles are released into the environment?"

    Are they even aware that Skynet is taken from a movie? Like science needed more technophobic zealots anyway...
    • Re:Yeah right (Score:5, Informative)

      by PhuCknuT (1703) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:45AM (#9266514) Homepage
      Uhm, they aren't talking about skynet or grey goo or any technophobic BS like that. They're talking about nano-sized dust that could cause problems similar to asbestos when inhaled. It's absolutely a real problem that should be researched.
      • I am sorry, but if so is the case, then why aren't scientifics and/or government agencies takinng care of it instead. A private insurance company is not asked to comment on this or that technology. They're simply trying to cover their asses (which is predictable from insurance companies) but they do so by trying to scare the shit out of everybody.

        Just like when the pope comments on preservatives or when mormons talk about the internet, they should not be given any credibility...
        • Re:Yeah right (Score:3, Informative)

          by schemanista (739124)

          I am sorry, but if so is the case, then why aren't scientifics and/or government agencies takinng care of it instead.

          From the FA, had you chosen to read it:

          'As a major risk carrier, the insurance industry can only responsibly support the introduction of a new technology if it can evaluate and calculate its inherent risks,' says Swiss Re. 'A risk needs to be identified before its consequences can be measured and a decision can be reached on the optimal risk management approach...

          ... A concern for ma

        • I am sorry, but if so is the case, then why aren't scientifics and/or government agencies takinng care of it instead. A private insurance company is not asked to comment on this or that technology.

          It is their business to quantify risk. Nothing is more dangerous to the survival of an insurance company than an unquantified risk, because it makes it impossible for them to know what to charge for insurance. They have a legal responsibility of their investors to do their best to anticipate and quantify the ri
    • Sorry. I hate to reply to my own posts, but I realised I made I mistake. I think they're actualy refering to medichlorians.
    • Re:Yeah right (Score:5, Insightful)

      by lovecult (682522) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @11:12AM (#9266775)

      Far from seeming to be technophobic zealotry, the report appears to ask questions from a philosophically disinterested perspective.

      It does not say "It will all go horribly wrong", in a technophic vein.
      Rather, asks open, critical questions, that lead to the question most important for the interests of the insurance industry:
      "are we at risk of losing money?"
      Hardly zealotry.

      Skynet succeeds as a dramatic device, because of its resonance in our culture.
      It is a reflection of healthy distrust.

      We have learnt to love the beauty of scientific philosophy and the comfort it has brought us.
      But, we had out fingers burnt by asbestos, thalidomide, dirty air, ... the list goes on.

      Why should we cede automatic trust to those who can make huge profits now, and never have to pay more than a fraction of the cost when things go abominably wrong?

      I for one, refuse to bow to our new nanotech engineering masters

  • It's kind of a Chicken/Egg problem for the insurers, isn't it?

    That is until the first lawsuits start getting settled. Then I suppose the actuaries'll have the real benchmark they need.

  • by cafal (676675) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:38AM (#9266447)
    I'd say the risks of nanotechnology are of small concern.
  • JC Denton, slap summadat Deus Ex (Machina) on us, quick! :)
  • Let's see... product has leftover nanotube dust on it, and said dust can permeate essentially anything, including skin cells... hmmm. That doesn't sound promising!
    • I'm surprised nobody's been doing research to find accidentally manufactured nano-products.

      Nanotubes and buckyballs were originally manufactured by burning graphite rods, IIRC. And you can't tell me similar conditions don't exist elsewhere, such as coal-based power plants and steel refineries. Other particles of potential concern can probably be found in the same way.

      Finally, AFAIK, there's not much difference between nanotechnology-produced devices and other artificially-produced chemicals. If anythin
  • by vijayiyer (728590) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:41AM (#9266462)
    Yet again, lawyers will dictate the course of technology - the fear of a lawsuit jacks up insurance rates, which makes research and development excessively costly.
    • I disagree with that line of thinking. There is risk of very serious harm done by this technology - with the irresponsibility of some tech companies, i can see why insurance companies are concerned. Its like an insurance company insuring a lab who's working on a super virus... that is inherently more risky than a company working on building picture frames... Or at least if something *DOES* happen, it'll be much worse.
    • by taped2thedesk (614051) * on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:55AM (#9266619)
      "Yet again, lawyers will dictate the course of technology - the fear of a lawsuit jacks up insurance rates, which makes research and development excessively costly."

      But if lawsuits do happen, and the insurance companies don't charge the nanotech firms enough to , then the costs will get passed on to the consumer through higher insurance rates for everything else. In the end, it really doesn't matter... consumers will get screwed either way.

      At least by raising rates, the insurance companies are encouraging more research into potenial health hazards of nanotech. Failing to research these hazards would be extremely unethical, and would be bad from a business sense (if there are problems once nanotech is widespread, a lot more R&D money will have been wasted than if they found it early on and could either abandon the research or find ways to make it safe). Once it can be shown that nanotech isn't going to be cause lung problems, etc., then rates will drop back down. This encourages nanotech companies to to conduct the research now (to get their rates down), rather than wait until we're hit by a wave of mesothelioma.

      I can't believe I'm actually defending insurance companies :-/

    • No. This kind of decision is made by senior management at the reccommendation of actuaries or and other analysts. The analyst's job is to predict the amount of money it will cost the corporation to insure something. Then the insurer adds some profit \ buisness expense margin in, and sells some insurance. If the analyst did their job right, on average the corporation will make that extra margin on each insurance sale.

      What's happening here, is that a reinsurance company had its analysts look at nanotech. Tho
  • by stratjakt (596332) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:41AM (#9266474) Journal
    The risks of cloning dinosaurs or time travel?

    But then, people take sci-fi horseshit pretty seriously these days. I was watching a Greenpeace guy debate some scientist about "the day after tomorrow" on some news show.
    • by PhuCknuT (1703)
      Unlike cloning dinosaurs and time travel, this isn't sci-fi BS that they are talking about. They aren't looking into grey goo or other technophobic crap like that, the article is simply about the effects of nanoscopic particles on living tissue. There is evidence to show that nanodust could cause lung problems or worse, and research needs to be done before nanotech starts being widely used.
      • by thayner (130464)
        They could also study how many lives will be saved by nanotechnology, but being an insurance company this is not their focus. If nanotechnology saves 1000 lives and kills one, the insurance company's problem is still the millions of dollars they'll need to pay out in lawsuits.
        • > They could also study how many lives will be
          > saved by nanotechnology, but being an insurance
          > company this is not their focus.

          Ah, seriously, that's what entrepeneurs and marketing are for.

      • Unlike cloning dinosaurs and time travel, this isn't sci-fi BS that they are talking about. They aren't looking into grey goo or other technophobic crap like that, the article is simply about the effects of nanoscopic particles on living tissue. There is evidence to show that nanodust could cause lung problems or worse, and research needs to be done before nanotech starts being widely used.

        What I want to know is why don't they just plan on using nanotech to make nanomachines capable of fixing the damage c
    • But then, people take sci-fi horseshit pretty seriously these days. I was watching a Greenpeace guy debate some scientist about "the day after tomorrow" on some news show.

      Thats generally like watching Bush debatign wiht anyone else.

      A unknowgeleable knob who makes even the most marginal scientists seem like Einstien.
  • Ethics (Score:5, Interesting)

    by millahtime (710421) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:42AM (#9266487) Homepage Journal
    When I was in college we were required to take an ethics course for engineers. We design so many things and don't take many of the risks into account.

    Because of that, universities are trying to teach students about risk/reward, ethics and the rest. Turns out there needs to be someone looking out for things. If something isn't insured and it costs as much as nanotech then odds are it will run into a lot of problems getting financed. I see this as a good checks and balance thing.
  • Mmm (Score:3, Insightful)

    by bo0ork (698470) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:42AM (#9266489)
    When an insurance company says something is bad or good, and is willing to back it with money (or not, as in this case), I trust them. Unlike product manufacturers, these guys actually has something to lose by being dishonest.
    • Re:Mmm (Score:2, Insightful)

      by JosKarith (757063)
      Riiiight.
      Insurance companies are notorious for using anyting that happens as either -
      a) a reason to jack up premiums, or
      b) a reason to not pay out.
      or both.

      Generally, insurance companies write clauses into their contracts to weasel out of paying in the 2-3 most likely circumstances.
      and compulsory insurance is just a license for them to print money.
      • Re:Mmm (Score:2, Funny)

        by untaken_name (660789)
        Riiiight.
        Insurance companies are notorious for using anyting that happens as either -
        a) a reason to jack up premiums, or
        b) a reason to not pay out.
        or both.

        Generally, insurance companies write clauses into their contracts to weasel out of paying in the 2-3 most likely circumstances.
        and compulsory insurance is just a license for them to print money.


        Yeah. Like the time they told me that my not-at-fault accident was an act of God because God made the guy that hit me. It didn't help when I told them he was a
      • by JGski (537049)
        > (insurance companies raise rate or don't pay claims)

        Communicating communal risk experience to individual members is the entire point of insurance as that is a key element to the hedging decision (decision to buy insurance at all and from whom) of the individual. When you don't communicate that risk is when insurance collapses (e.g. current US health insurance crisis, Asian financial meltdown due to derivatives in the 90s).

        Denied claims gives a risk signal/message to insured clients just as well as

  • by Dr Cool (671556) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:43AM (#9266494) Homepage
    I've been working with carbon nanotubes (buckyballs) for 5 years, no filters, no clean rooms, no suits, none of that fancy stuff. Carbon nanotubes are basically a superfine black dust. I haven't any I haven't I haven't noticed haven't noticed noticed haven't noticed I haven't noticed any problems.
  • ...nanotechnology. I'm sure you also know. "Nano" is just a morpheme people bandy around who are trying to get funding. But this is terrible news. It looks like the insurance companies have been fooled into thinking it does really exist and so are going to use it as a convenient excuse to increase our premiums.
  • by sohojim (676510) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:43AM (#9266504) Homepage
    Put simply, they have a lot of money tied up in everything, and it's all about the numbers to them. Everything from how many 40-year-olds break their left ankle all the way up to what happens if millions of people inhale nanobots that destroy their lungs on the inside.

    They also addressed climate change from a relatively broad range of perspectives a couple of years ago. See this report [lbl.gov].

    Of course, if we all go gray goo, there won't be anyone left to pay a claim to. :-)

  • ....getting a nanodevice in your eye or under your fingernail?

    Or nanobots replicating out of control until the earth is buried in grey goo? (yeah, i borrowed that one)..

    Seriously though... There is a lot of good, and a lot of bad that can come out of nanodevices. Especially in the wartime or medical fields.
  • Common Sense (Score:3, Insightful)

    by ShinSugoi (783392) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:49AM (#9266554)
    As much as I would like to join the cries of "horrible insurance rates", the Insurance industry has good reason to be hesitant. We really don't know what sorts of effects many nano-sized objects will have when they interact with the human body, and it's perfectly understandable for them to desire to measure the risk before they insure it.

    That is, after all, the basis of their business model.

  • by StandardCell (589682) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @10:54AM (#9266608)
    For those of us who are even slightly environmentally or health conscious, the effects of nanotech-related waste of one type or another should be of concern. From the mercury used to extract gold to the lead used in the solder of so many electronic devices, we now have a new potential threat in the form of nanomaterials.

    It's not my intention to come off as a luddite, but these materials are potentially nasty. They react in very different ways than regular chemicals, and for the first time we have materials we can't assume that the natural environment of our planet will simply sweep them away to where we can't see them and where they won't affect us. We really need to be paying attention right here and right now because these materials can persist in our environment for a long time and are not easily incinerated or chemically treated.

    The insurance industry should be taking a close look at covering the liability of companies involved in the manufacture and use of nanomaterials. The companies using nanomaterials ought to be held to the highest standards and employ rigorous manufacturing, environmental protection and recycling programs. Why should insurers be covering risk if their manufacturing plant is releasing carcinogenic and mutagenic material that embeds itself in the soil and never leaves it? I believe in conjuntion with government environmental protection agencies, companies will think carefully about employing such techniques. We can't afford to let it get to the point where the government or individuals start suing because of the damage, but neither can a company afford to get its insurance premiums hiked substantially or its coverage dropped.

    The bottom line: if you're concerned about nanotech manufacturing facilities, live near a dump, or otherwise are going to be near these materials, get active and involved and start reporting the facts about nanotech materials to companies' insurers and other government agencies to ensure your safety and that of your children.

    Also, on a slightly unrelated note, insurance companies are a great way to gain leverage against companies and organizations that screw you over. Whether you complain incessantly about unmaintained gym equipment, an apartment building full of mold, or an employer who insists on putting its employees in potentially dangerous situations, an insurer will always be interested in anything that's not disclosed to them that would affect their coverage risk. If you can find out who insures a company with such a "flaw," you can exact justice by simply documenting the issues with the insurer. Believe me, they DO listen and they WILL get on it.
    • It's not my intention to come off as a luddite, but these materials are potentially nasty.

      No, instead you come off like a chicken-little-hippy-activist scare monger.

      Yes, precautions developing nanotech are important, but the potential benefits to everyone are tremendous. We need to be supporting this type of research, not running around encouraging the ignorant to demonstrate and complain about how worried they are.

      This exact attitude is why there is a shortage of nuclear power in the US, which could

    • You might want to use a few different examples than lead and mercury, because those ARE regular chemicals, elements even. We've had health problems with those for hundreds of years. While that is a problem we'll have associated with nanotechnology, it's not something NEW to worry about, as it's a general electronics manufacturing problem.

      I'm not disagreeing with you at all, just saying that you've got two problems here. One is the industrial-age old problem of metal pollutants, the other is the brand ne
      • The point of mentioning lead and mercury is that we overlooked the environmental and human health of these infrastructure materials. Nanotechnology is poised to become the next infrastructure technology. We have a track record of overlooking these kinds of risks because of the shorter-term economic benefits.
  • No matter what, it is only going to take a particle of wayward nanotechnology to wipe out half the population of the world.

    Since when does ethics take a front seat when there is so much money to be made.

    There is probably some privately funded lab somewhere doing all sorts of research. The same goes for clonning, it's only a matter of time before things get so out of control that the governemnt will have to Nuke private labs.

  • by romit_icarus (613431) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @11:05AM (#9266708) Journal
    The need to formulate a new risk category sounds a bit alarmist to me. Nanotechnology is not something dramatically new. It usually means more specific and smart pharma drugs. The physical nano micro-machines that were envisaged when the term was propelled into vogue, have not yet taken off!

    To me that's pretty much old risk.

  • notorious warnings (Score:4, Interesting)

    by khallow (566160) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @11:18AM (#9266871)
    Swiss Re is notorious for these sorts of warnings. Think of it as the "you don't have enough insurance" warnings. They do the same thing with global warming.
  • I, for one (Score:2, Funny)

    by std deviant (782821)
    Welcome our new gray goo overlords. And, i might add, as a longhaired geek, that I have some influence over the chattering masses and can be useful in calming the populous.
  • There is a very serious downside to this, stemming indirectly from our current litiginous climate. Basically, if the insurance companies refuse to cover something it is effectively illegal due to many existing requirements for insurance.

    It's like having a rottweiler in a house - sure it's legal, but you can't get insurance for the house, which means you can't get a mortgage, which means you can't buy a house unless you pay for it out of pocket...so it may as well be illegal for you to have a rottweiler.

    O
    • It's like having a rottweiler in a house - sure it's legal, but you can't get insurance for the house, which means you can't get a mortgage, which means you can't buy a house unless you pay for it out of pocket...so it may as well be illegal for you to have a rottweiler.

      Reading that, what I really see is "I can't get insurance *at a price that's acceptable to me*" and or "I can't get insurance *in a convenient manner*".

      I'm certain you can get insurance in almost all situations. It is true that due to

    • Any price for insurance or liability through legal costs, market cost or government regulation is the communally assessed risk/price of the technology or business, in so far as we know the true risks at any given point in time.

      For those who proport to hate lawyers, insurance, goverment, businesses and free-markets, etc., what these individuals or groups do is create emergent, collective decision making regarding risks faced by everyone.

      One of the infuriating (but structurally essential) aspects is that

  • by kabocox (199019) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @12:13PM (#9267638)
    I don't like the idea of insurance as a check on anything. Of course I've always thought of insurance as a scam that everyone has to buy because of government laws rather or not they really want it.

    Think car insurance. Were people required by law to own horse insurance or mule insurance when those were the methods of transporation? I don't think so. Now, every one is required by law, to own a min. of car insurance.

    If you buy a house now, most people will have to get a mortgage. Almost every bank requires you to get insurance on that house.

    Insurance companies are around to make a profit. I don't believe that they are a good check for anything.

    How long until it is required by law that every citizen must be paying for health insurance, life insurance and lawyer insurance or be put in jail?
    • How long until it is required by law that every citizen must be paying for health insurance, life insurance and lawyer insurance or be put in jail?
      The future may be here already (in the US, anyway) -- Medicaire and Medicaid, and to a lesser extent Social Security, come pretty close to legally-mandated versions of health insurance and life insurance.
    • Strictly you have a choice to insure or not even when car insurance in "mandated" by law (yes obeying the "Law" is always an explicit choice - perhaps you simply choose to throw that option away even in extreme circumstance). Plenty of people "self-insure" every day by driving without insurance. Exactly like an insurance company, they are banking the savings (revenue as cost reduction) today against the unlikelihood for a future bad event that costs them money (being caught, which has lower costs than one
      • I can't remember off the top of my head, but where I live it is either $25,000 or $50,000 min. insurance. If you don't have insurance, you are supposed to be able to show that you have that amount of money for liablity. Do you have $25,000 in the bank just in case? My wife handles the car insurance, I think it is somewhere between $600-$700 every six months. Over time, I'd have that amount of money for just incase purposes. Up front, I couldn't show that I had it. Insurance companies have gotten the law wri
  • Poorly researched (Score:5, Informative)

    by bradbury (33372) <Robert...Bradbury@@@gmail...com> on Thursday May 27, 2004 @12:14PM (#9267645) Homepage
    While it is fine for the insurance industry to want to protect itself it would be better if they actually did quality research. Citing the ETC group or Greenpeace as references seems to suggest a distinctly European bias (Oh no lets avoid technology progress as that would ruin our little socialistic state... It is the same argument that they have invoked against genetic technologies).

    In fact they fail to reference, meaning they probably have not read, the three concrete references on nanotechnology. They are respectively works by Robert Freitas: Nanomedicine Vol. IIA: Biocompatibility [amazon.com], Nanomedicine Vol. I: Basic capabilities [amazon.com] and Drexler's Nanosystems [amazon.com]. It is worth keeping in mind that all of these are college level textbooks and the popular press and/or the authors of corporate press releases may not bother to read them (unfortunately).

    Any published reports that do not cite these resources (or at least cite sources that cite these resources) can reasonably be assumed to have little or no understanding of nanotechnology and nanomedicine.

    Freitas deals extensively with the biocompatibility problem in Nanomedicine Vol. IIA. and if you do not see a detailed analysis of this volume (which is several hundred pages, extensively referenced) in an insurance risk analysis then that analysis is either misinformed or incomplete. On top of that an insurance analysis should deal with the potential benefits of nanotechnology which include extending the human lifespan to several thousand years. There is no analysis for the insurance industry of the reduced payments for life insurance due to the benefits of the technology. I.e. there is no comparison of the potential downside vs. the potential upside.

    I would suggest that SwissRe has failed to do a complete job in its analysis.

  • by Crashmarik (635988) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @12:26PM (#9267775)
    Inovations who needs it, things are perfect as they are. If anything goes wrong somebodys responsible and it sure isnt the VICTIM.

    I can't even begin to describe how disheartening this kind of story is. Asbestos was bad enough, Cigarretes were even more rediculous, but this truly demonstrates the pernicious and destructive effects product liablility lawyers have on society.

    What I wan't to know is when I am going to be able to sue liability lawyers for damages done due to the absence of technologies they have blocked. Sorry sir those Amyloid plaques that are causing your alzheimers could be cleaned but the drugs couldn't be made because lawsuit fears. Sorry madam your child starved to death because of fears about GM foods. Sorry your fireproofing cost three times what it should have because we couldn't use asbestos anymore.

    The insurer have taken a gutless though correct position. As long as the courts are willing to turn someones tragedy into a lawyers lottery ticket, As long as they are willing to hold inventors liable for things they didn't and in principle couldn't know, it will be folly for insurers to write liability insurance for any kind of new product.
  • by GPLDAN (732269) on Thursday May 27, 2004 @01:06PM (#9268328)
    Without proper legislation, Gene Simmons could turn into an evil scientist who uses tiny robots to hatch an evil plan to destroy the world's oil supply and bankrupt the World Bank. Then we'd need an overweight Tom Selleck to save us!
  • I've been once at Ruschlikon [ruschlikon.net], Swiss Re's thinking department. In 2002 they organised a nice program for ISC-Symposium [isc-symposium.org] participants, which was largely concerned with forecasting technological/societal changes to do exactly what the report is about - warn Swiss Re clients (insurance companies) about new risks. Of course, a day visit is not enough to be immersed into their organisational culture, but from my experience there the researchers/managers/insurers in Ruschlikon didn't quite appear capable of making
  • Nanotech objects are common place. Really!

    When the research regarding the risks of buckyballs and other nanoparticles came out, I sent a letter to New Scientist where it was announced criticising them for "bad science". Buckyballs were specifically accused of hurting test subjects.

    The testing may be valid, but leaves the wrong impression. Buckyballs are easily made by burning benzene and collecting them from the soot. Benzene is burned when we burn wood, coal, and gasoline. We've been burning these mate

  • In regards to medical research that may be conducted for insurance companys (or governments for that matter) I found this latims story [latimes.com] [free subscription needed to view] which talks about how many doctors are collecting stock options and paychecks form the various companys that are conducting the research. IE: the people who research nano-tech for insurance companys may be getting stock options/paychecks from insurance companys. I'm not saying that it is happening, I am saying that when ever we see rese
  • That's it, then -- I'm getting rid of all my nano-fabric Dockers.

    No way I'm letting anything that might have side effects get that close to my genitals.

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