Friday, September 05, 2003

Can't You Hear MNT Knocking

stickyAgain, Rick Smalley's "fat fingers" and "sticky fingers" are being given the finger. The father of fullerenes is being hammered a great deal these days by advocates of molecular nanotechnology, and Chris Phoenix and Mike Treder of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (with an influence growing well out of proportion to its two-man operation) make a convincing case for its arrival even earlier than Greenpeace predicted.

Smalley has been accused of creating a "straw Eric Drexler" to place in the stockade for public ridicule, force to sign a confession that the "Prey" scenario is only fiction, then sentence to death for disobeying the laws of physics. Phoenix and Treder are the latest in a line of Drexlerites who seek to tear apart the straw man, finger by finger. Smalley says that a hypothetical manipulator would be too fat and sticky to rearrange atoms. Smalley's critics say that a mechanochemical toolbox would do the job without any need for overweight or oily appendages.

The point of all this? Smalley says gray goo is silly science fiction. Drexler says it's a long, long way off, but is indeed physically possible. Both will have long since decomposed into atoms in the generations it will take to find out who wins the argument. So today's fight is really about two things: Addressing current fears and establishing historical legacies.

The CRN says a limited form of molecular nanotechnology is not only science fact, but it's a coming attraction that needs to be addressed by us today – not by our great-grandkids.

"Some hazards of LMNT may require cooperative international response; such problems, perhaps as little as a decade away, need attention today."

That's why I love my job. Wild Horses couldn't drag me away.


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