Friday, March 12, 2004

NNI confused by SciFi

Always an interesting time on my bulletin board. Here's an excerpt:


I try to stay silent on the message boards, since you all can read my blabbing on the main site, but I'll make an exception now to commend you on your excellent post. It's fine to be an "idealogue," as you say, for the general principle that a Drexler-style nanomachine is within the realm of possibility. But it's important not to let that belief force you to lose sight of the tried-and-true scientific method of trial-and-error, modifying your ideas to fit reality.

On a more-simple level, journalism works much the same way (or at least should).

That's why I found it so surprising that the Web site of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, a noble government effort devoted to scientific inquiry, would actually declare any particular vision of nanotechnology to be "in the realm of science fiction." Apparently having learned a lesson from poor Lord Kelvin more than a century earlier, the NNI did not quite declare it to be "impossible," but the implication was certainly there.

Why would a government site devoted to science do something so antithetical to the scientific method: prejudge an outcome? Sandwiched inside the declaration was the real reason, and I now regret interrupting it with ellipses in my original NanoBot post. So, here it is in its entirety:

    "Such creatures do not exist and many scientists believe they never will, saying nanoscale materials are simply too small to manipulate for such purposes – and if someone wanted to create something destructive, there are many easier ways to do so.

    That said, technologies, starting with fire, are abused at times. For this reason, laboratories are closely monitored and research is peer-reviewed. Research funding is withheld from less-than-worthy projects and from those with questionable credentials or reputation.

    One safeguard against potential abuses is training scientists to consider the ethical implications of the research they perform. Government regulations are always possible should there appear need. Today—and as far as scientists can see—anything resembling nanobots remains in the realm of science fiction."

It's bizarre to me that the leap is made from "nanobots" to "destructive," to "questionable credentials" to "ethical implications," and then back to "nanobots." Oh, and they also call them "creatures."

Sounds to me like the NNI has been reading too much bad science fiction.

OK. I'll hand the bulletin board back to those of you who really know what you're talking about!



No comments: