The Edmonton Journal asks: Will nanoscience repeat ag-biotech fiasco? The story is a rehash of all the issues NanoBot readers have been familiar with for more than a year now. But it gives me a good excuse to go into part of the "tough love" advice I gave to the Foresight Institute during my presentation last weekend.
If the group wants to remain relevant, it needs to address concerns associated with nanotechnology today, and not only this vague "someday" when true molecular manufacturing is in use.
Here's the background, for those who haven't been following what's going on: The U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative made a decision a few years ago to shut "Engines of Creation" author Eric Drexler and his brand of nanotechnology (true, bottom-up self-replicating nanosystems and molecular manufacturing) out of the the realm of mainstream thought and government funding, and marginalize him and other scientists who believe this stuff is physically possible.
Much of the media have gone along for the ride, since it appeals to journalists' cynical nature to call true nanotech a bunch of crap. Most tech and business journalists are only now recovering from the crap they wrote during the Internet revolution. So, coverage centers on short-term products, business models, how to partner with existing industries and how to attract government and venture capital funding. And that's fine. That's great. Meanwhile, who is writing about nanotechnology? More importantly, who is serving as its watchdog?
Most scientists do believe bottom-up molecular manufacturing is physically possible. It's not even a question, no matter what Nobel laureate Rick Smalley says. Smalley has reasons for his marginalization of another branch of his own science that may never be truly known. Conspiracy theories abound, but you won't read them here.
The Foresight Institute, through its new director, Scott Mize (who comes from the nanobusiness community), is attempting to fight back against this negative image by engaging more in the political process, being more relevant to current economic, business and environmental concerns and countering this image as a bunch of sci-fi kooks.
What I told Foresight members last weekend was that they're going to have to climb out of their academic bubble for a little while (or even their mother's basements?) and engage in today's world. If its members looked around, they'd see a true opportunity.
This is the new public face of nanotechnology. Dr. Drexler, (and as a result, the entire Foresight Institute), is old news. The anti-nano movement: That’s the sexy story. That’s the new sensational story, and one that reporters can understand and are covering.
Nanotechnology, even the nanotechnology as defined by the U.S. government and the business community, is too far away for anybody to grasp it as reality. So, it’s a concept that can reflect our own views of the world. Nano is synonymous with genetically modified organisms? Of course not, but it doesn’t matter. It is, because they say it is, and there’s an audience ready to believe it because it conforms to their world view.
Here is where Foresight can leverage its distance from U.S. government and business interests by being an independent resource for all sides of the discussion. Distance from government and business pressures is a good thing in the eyes of the general public. Independence equals credibility – at least, I hope it does. Make it understandable and fire up the imagination of the people, which is the real source of Foresight's strength.
Then, while Foresight is at it, inform the people about true, bottom-up molecular nanotechnology and all of the promise and perils it could bring.
Not that I'm an expert in winning friends and influencing people, but that seems to me to be a way Foresight could gain a collective voice that's much louder than the aggregate of its current believers.