Monday, January 17, 2005

Smalley, Drexler and the Spirit of '96

I wrote last week about the documentary "Rage Against the Machines" on the SciFi channel, which featured a strange clip in which nanotech pioneer Rick Smalley appeared to describe self-replicating nanobots. I guessed that the comment was taken out of context, since Smalley believes such a "cool dream" is about as likely to come true as, well, as many of my cool dreams ... but, ahem, I digress. Smalley, through a spokesperson, replied with a "no comment" when I asked for his side of the story. But, in this letter, Michael Forbes steps forward with some insight and context. Thanks, Michael:

Greetings Howard,

The footage that was aired on the SciFi channel came from a documentary that Nanotechnology Magazine produced for the Learning Channel back in 1996. We actually filmed that at Rice University as an interview format between Bill Spence, publisher of Nanotechnology Magazine and Rick Smalley.

The original program had a tour of what was then called the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology (CNST) at Rice, the first university facility of its kind in the US. I was invited to the groundbreaking ceremony, which had Rick and some grad students splitting a carbon nanotube which triggered an explosion in the soil outside the auditorium. Dr. Smalley's version of a modern shovel.

I'll have to dig the original out of storage to determine just how far out of context the footage SciFi used was. The producers called me in early Dec. for permission to use the footage. They did not want to take the time or spend the money to do original current work and views, which I pushed them to do. I also assisted the Foresight Institute in having Rick speak at this conference, which I attended.

The debate between Rick and Eric Drexler began at that conference with Drexler challenging from the audience a statement made by Rick during his lecture. Smalley's response to Drexler's clarification about his vision of an assembler resulted in Dr. Smalley saying "Cool dream."

We'll just have to see what kind of fallout results from "Rage Against the Machines."

I know all of this as I was one of the founders of Nanotechnology Magazine in 1994 and made all the arrangements for the production with Dr. Smalley. I work closely now with Judith Light Feather at The NanoTechnology Group Inc. as vice president of university relations and I'm also currently president of the Nanotechnology Development Corp. and the NanoComputer DreamTeam.

I'm a big fan of yours, as I too love a good story, and nanotech certainly provides us with that.

My Best,
Michael Forbes

NanoBot Backgrounder
Smalley plays with 'Rage'
Clash of the Nanotech Titans
"Smalley, you ........ ...."


Anonymous said...

Howard, it surely must look like I`m jumping to conclusions here, but do you see any reason behind the "no comment" comment by Smalley? Is Smalley just keeping pace with the nano-bandwagon, in case he had to jump on it? If he´s so seriously opposed to self-replicating nanobots, why does he let the obvious misrepresentation stand as it is?

I suspect, with such suggestive questions I´d hardly make a good journalist and it might well be against your standards to answer these questions. However, if it motivates you, just imagine I´d threaten you with 4 week old socks. Not nano-socks.

Best regards

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