Saturday, July 10, 2004

British Equation

chuckPrince Charles now pooh-poohs grey goo as rubbish. Everybody knows that nano equals thalidomide. Thalidomide? Yes, thalidomide. HRH Chuck doesn't believe self-replicating nanobots will destroy the world, but hints that nanotech could merely create something similar to a generation of deformed children.

Update: I got into a mini-debate over this post with blogger Anne Galloway over this issue. Here's what she said and I said:

    I read those articles as well Howard but, IMHO, you make a bit of a leap in logic here.

    Charles implied that a lack of "appropriate care and humility" played a significant role in the "upset" around thalidomide use - and warned against that sort of irresponsible science happening again. Nowhere does that suggest that "nano equals thalidomide" or that nanotech "could create something similar to a generation of deformed children".


    Of course that's what he meant to imply -- just as George Bush said the words "mushroom cloud" and "Saddam" in the same sentence. You juxtapose the two ideas, then stand back and let the public make the leap for you.

    The thing is, this is apples and oranges. thalidomide was one specific drug. Nanotechnology is not any one technology at all. It's a scale, a process. It's not any one thing.

    To say there should be a moratorium on it is silly, or to say you're opposed to it or even for it is equally ludicrous. It'd be like saying you're for or against the arrival of August.

    Of course there should be proper safeguards and testing of any new technology, process, product or drug. But to say "halt all nanotechnology research" in the name of precaution is akin to asking for all scientific research to be halted. Everything is converging on the nanoscale.

    The harm to individuals and nations could be far-reaching if we suddenly put a stop to important nanoscale research in the search for cancer, AIDS, SARS and other cures -- not to mention possible solutions to equitable distribution of resources through water desalination and purification.

    Nanotechnology is not biotech. It's merely a process by which the basic building blocks of nature can be used to put right what humans have already ruined.

    It's ironic and baffling to me that the environmental movement is not embracing nanotechnology as their own cause, since it's about as "organic" a technology as you can get. This is how we can clean up the mess we have created.


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1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Although nanotechnology can be "organic" it can also be extremely polluting. Some of the chemicals and process involved in nanoscale production are not environmentally friendly at all.

For example the amount of energy required to simply look at a nanoscale object in an SEM is polluting our environment.