Wednesday, December 03, 2003

Self-replicating NanoCommentary

While we wait for the president to grab his official bill-signing pen, here's some "hold" music for you -- some of the commentary swirling in the aftermath of the Drexler/Smalley debate.

    "… kind of entertaining to see two reknowned academics get pissy with each other."
-- Max Jacobs, Common Sense Wonder

    "Smalley is just not addressing the issues. Instead, he veers off into metaphors about boys and girls in love. He describes mechanosynthesis as simply 'mushing two molecular objects together' in 'a pretend world where atoms go where you want.'"
-- Ralph Merkle, nanotechnology pioneer and Distinguished Professor of Computing at the Georgia Institute of Technology

    Here's my summary:
    Drexler: Nanoassemblers are wonderful and possible. Anybody who says otherwise is a little punk.
    Smalley: Well, I'm one of the best in nanotechnology and I say that you are wrong, be-yotch.
    Drexler: Your Mom said I was right last night.
    Smalley: Don't you be talkin' 'bout my momma!

-- Daniel Moore, Georgia Institute of Technology grad student.

    It appears that in substituting the word "assembly" for "replication," some savvy bill writer performed a bit of legislative jujitsu to leave Drexler’s approach out in the cold. After all, why investigate the feasibility of self-assembly when it’s already been proved possible?
-- James M. Pethokoukis, U.S. News & World Report.

    "If two experts of this stature disagree on such a fundamental question, who is right? Don't count on me to give an answer."
-- Roland Piquepaille, computer consultant

    “Smalley's factual inaccuracies, his unscientific and vehement attacks on MNT, and his continued failure to criticize the actual chemical proposals of MNT, demonstrate that we must move beyond this debate.”
-- Mike Treder, Executive Director of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

    I can tell you right now that I'm going to come down in between the two of them on this issue - I think that molecular-scale manufacturing is going to be possible, but I think that Drexler is glossing over some key difficulties that will have to be overcome.

-- Derek Lowe, writing in "In the Pipeline"

    Much of Smalley's discussion is off-topic, and his assertions about the limitations of enzyme chemistry are factually incorrect -- a fatal weakness in his argument.
-- Chris Phoenix, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology

    "I'm somewhat skeptical of the skeptical claims, in part because of Clarke's First Law ("When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.") and in part because the nanotechnology business community seems to have decided that the best way to deal with people who fear nanotechnology … is to loudly proclaim that the really scary stuff is impossible. I think that's shortsighted, and more than a touch dishonest …"
-- Glenn Reynolds, InstaPundit

    Smalley's approach to reassuring the public about the potential abuse of this future technology is not the right strategy. Denying the feasibility of both the promise and the peril of molecular assembly will ultimately backfire and fail to guide research in the needed constructive direction.
-- Ray Kurzweil, author, inventor.

    Presumably, Smalley will be in Alaska next week telling children that they don't need to worry about being eaten by polar bears because there are no polar bears. The question of whether polar bears actually exist is secondary; the main point is that children shouldn't be frightened.
-- Phil Bowermaster, The Speculist


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