February 05, 2004
Vinegar Vs Honey
I haven't been paying much attention to nanotech. Given the rather perplexing and intemperate response of their media flak to Prof. Reynolds' writings on the subject, though, I think I may have to start paying more attention. When an industry tries so hard to marginalize an entire group of people as kooks because of their speculations concerning future possibilities it makes me wonder what they're trying to hide. It's kind of reminiscent of some of the early attempts from the RFID industry to try to marginalize privacy advocates.
I guess I need to start by finding out more about molecular assemblers and why this Modzelewski fellow is so afraid of them.
Update: To get started I ordered a couple of books from Amazon.com, although those are just basic primers. Some of the more detailed books are a bit more expensive, including the ones by Eric Drexler. It turns out that the Keller library is part of the Ft. Worth system and I was able to put a hold on a copy of one of his books. They'll notify me when it comes in at the local branch.
This whole NanoBusiness Alliance business really has gotten me interested to see what's really going on.
Posted by Aubrey at February 5, 2004 08:10 PM
Well, if you had a name like "Modzelewski" wouldn't you be a bit pissed off?
Apparently they can control the Washingpost folks (or appear to think they can) but the blogger is not with the program, and they're pissed off. Maybe they're just used to lazy mainstream reporters repeating what they tell them...
Buster--that's a good one (I've been trying really hard to resist making fun of this guy, and it's been pretty difficult).
CT--that could be one explanation. If so, I think they're in for a rude awakening because if bloggers think there's fire under this smoke they'll grab hold of this and won't let it go.
The Advisory Board of the Alliance is... headed by former House Speaker Newt Gingrich. Coincidence?
I look forward to seeing what you find out. I need to read some of that scholarly stuff on nanotech as well. If you want an enjoyable read on the subject, try Diamond Age, by Neal Stephenson. A fascinating speculation on a future dominated by nanotech--and it speculates on both good and evil. I far prefer his approach to that of Michael Crichton. Everything he writes has that same moral--"Science is dangerous! Science is bad for us!" He's like a broken record. I'm sure it will be like every Pandora's Box the human race has opened--both very good and very bad, and we'll all just have to adapt the best we can.
For a good intro summary piece on nanotechnology, you can try the EurekAlert essay: http://www.eurekalert.org/context.php?context=nano&show=essays
There are some essays written on various topics by the guys at Center for Responsible Nanotechnology: www.crnano.org
And if you want the technical details, try Eric Drexler's book Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation. Chapter 1 is on the web: http://www.foresight.org/Nanosystems/index.html
This stunned me:
"Because matters such of this are so grave and serious, we avoid mixing in the comic relief of the writings of Eric Drexler and yourself the subject."
He thinks K. Eric Drexler is a clown?! Holy hell this guy has some serious recto cranial inversion "issues" to work through. I've read Nanosystems, and it's a damned fine book. It's taken me several thousand dollars worth of college education (plus the equivalent of several thousand dollars more in private study, at in-state, public school rates even) just to approach the ability to actually understand the really technical parts of the book. It contains quite a lot of damned solid science. No, his book is not gospel, he admits as much himself. It's not a roadmap either, he admits that too. It's a framework. It's a starting point in terms of the science and design of nanotechnological systems (including assemblers) that is intended to be advanced upon, evolved from, etc. It's not the Wright flier but rather more akin to Da Vinci's schematics of flying craft, though actually a fair amount more detailed and sophisticated than Da Vinci's work in flight. It's a base camp from which further excursions can be made toward the summit. If it should prove that the summit cannot be feasibly reached, then so be it, but so far that has not been proved even remotely, and the number of unexplored and untested routes to that summit are, at present, enormous.
Molecular assembly holds great potential and, in my opinion, is an achievable technology within the not to distant future. With any luck the antics of doomsayers like 'm' will go down in history along with stuff like the New York Times saying it's impossible to fly to the Moon using rockets (they retracted that one, eventually).
What's so ridiculous about it is that Glenn hasn't even disagreed with this guy. As an industry/field outsider, he accidentally stumbled into the middle of a bitter insider schism. The guy became convinced that Glenn was on the other side and not merely raising practical concerns and speculating quite rationally about the future of the wider public debate (which is never rational).
"The guy became convinced that Glenn was on the other side"
Glenn sits on the board of the Foresight Institute, which probably defines "the other side" for MM.
As for learning about nanotech--skip Nanosystems until you're working at the PhD level, read Engines of Creation (on the web at http://www.foresight.org/EOC/index.html). Small Times mag is a good way to track current developments and they give out subscriptions for free http://www.smalltimes.com/subscription.
Thanks to everyone for the good information. It'll definitely come in handy.
I put Engines of Creation on hold at the library before I saw that it was available online. I'll probably still read it in book form, though, since I tend to prefer having the book in hand to reading online.
I would second Karl Gallagher's advice on Engines of Creation. It is an astonishing work of intellect and very well written. Small Times is a good recommendation, too.
This reminded me of some comments I made in the same vein a few years ago. Then, as now, the most obvious problem with the anti-assembler folks is that they simply have not done their homework. Drexler and others have put out some very decent and solid stuff ("Nanosystems" being a sterling example). Those critiquing this body of work have mostly done so from the side with amateurish pot shots. There is not, to my knowledge, anywhere near a comprehensive, robust, and thorough point-by-point refutation or counterargument to the individual elements representing the current state of the art of the theory of molecular assembler and related technology. An "Anti-Nanosystems" work, either singly or as a collection of diverse individual works, does not exist nor is anyone, to my knowledge, seriously working to create such a work. And until such time as there is such a work the advantage will remain, as now, with the assembler folks and the "Drexlerians". They've done their homework, the opposition has not.
What does everyone have against industry anyway? I suspect the anger on both sides is ill-founded, to put it nicely.
I don't think anyone here has a problem with industry. What the real problem is concerns an industry alliance that has a representative who thinks it's OK to bash futurists with ad-hominem attacks, rather than to work with them (or at least to come up with a coherent response instead of derisive dismissal).
As someone who is interested in science and the ways it can serve me as a potential customer, I think it behooves the industry that would use that science to respond with respect to all, regardless of whether those people have concerns or just happen to be looking towards the future.