Thursday, May 06, 2004

Choose your own 'irrational' scenario

Take an hour or so to drink this in. It's a 143-page PDF file. "Nanotechnologies: A Preliminary Risk Analysis On The Basis Of A Workshop Organized In Brussels On March 2004 By The Health And Consumer Protection Directorate General Of The European Commission."

Despite the clunky title, it's filled with fascinating information. Here's just a tiny excerpt that caught my attention. It's from "Social Imagination for Nanotechnology," by Alfred Nordmann of Darmstadt Technical University.

    We are accustomed to speaking of "nanotechnology" in general terms as a radically novel enabling technology, one that can dramatically change every aspect of our lives. This characterization may well be adequate -- as it is, for example, of "biotechnology." When we speak in these terms, however, we cannot claim that Michael Crichton's scenario is irrational as opposed to the credible visions of Mihail Roco, the chief propagandist for the US Nanotechnology Initiative, who promises mind-machine interfaces, new sports and art forms, and the cure for cancer within the next 10 to 15 years. On the contrary, any talk of a radically novel, deeply transformative enabling technology must open the floodgates of the imagination, and it would be foolish to believe that one can steer this outpouring of visions in a particular direction. The trenches for this outpouring are already dug by generations of technophiles and technophobes who stand ready to bring their intellectual resources to bear on any program for universally transformative technologies. As long as nanotechnology trades in visions to obtain funding, it invites the company of visionaries. Read the rest

I'll just add one thing. Roco is in the position to make his scenario a self-fulfilling prophecy. But, then again, a different set of dreams -- and private funding -- could provide a powerful counterbalance.


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