Tuesday, January 11, 2005

Smalley plays with 'Rage'

I just watched part of "Rage Against the Machines" on the SciFi channel. It's a "documentary" that highlights everything we should all be very afraid of -- including, of course, nanotechnology.

In the world of this documentary, it's a foregone conclusion that out-of-control nanobots will destroy the world outside either before or after they consume our flesh from the inside.

What I found particularly amusing was an interview with nanotech scientist Rick Smalley in which he describes what a self-replicating nanobot would do. I can only guess that this interview snippet was taken out of context since, as many nanotech followers know, Smalley believes such a self-replicating nanobot is the stuff of dreams and nightmares.

Related News
Mega fear over something nano (The Sydney Morning Herald)

NanoBot Backgrounder
Operation Inform Chad
Invisible horrors and ghost stories
Nanorobotic Simulation
NanoBots as envisioned by Encarta
Images of the possible
Killer NanoBots from Croatia!


Anonymous said...

Despite their contempt for literal factuality, myths carry great truth. Myths allow us to conceive of possibilities, and anticipate actualities.

It's very easy to make fun of the myth of self-replicating nanobots taking over the world, but only if you deny the symbolic truth behind the literal falsehood.

To those who sneer at this particular myth, I would ask you which of the following myths you subscribe to:

1. Nanotechnology will make us all rich.

2. Nanotechnology will save countless lives.

3. Nanotechnology will make the world a better place.

Nanotechnology, of course, hasn't done any of these things. What you're working with is myth, and hope. The nanobot and grey goo mythologizers are no less intelligent or practical than you are -- like you, they are shaping myth. The only difference is that they temper their hope with a healthy dose of fear. And, like you, they will have a role in transforming the myth of nanotechnology to fact, whether you like it or not.

Howard Lovy said...

Excellent and thoughtful point, Mr. or Ms. Anonymous, and one that I've been trying to say in various clumsy ways on this blog for a long time. Thank you.


Anonymous said...

I think it is very appropriate that we discuss possible outcomes of Nanotechnology and how we prevent the undesirable ones from happening. I hope that like many technologies that can be used in military applications, the benefits from non-military applications far outweigh the risks. The perfect example of this is nuclear technology. If you look at nuclear technology, it introduces the possibility of mass destruction. So, far though, since world war 2, and chernoble (a few at 3 mile island), there have been no deaths attributed to the technology. On the positive side, many countries are using nuclear energy to replace dirty coal technology at a cheaper rate. With the right legislation and law enforcement, I believe Nanotechnology can be a similar success, but we should treat it like Nuclear technology. However, there is a differance. Most people don't have nuclear technology in their living room, but with Nanotechnology, people will have products in their living room. But, these aren't dangerous. The thing that needs to be controlled is the custom design of materials. In other words, if someone can easily design whatever they want in real time, that's a dangerous scenario. Maybe, we need to have a centrally regulated agency to oversee designs and verify that they are not dangerous.

Howard Lovy said...

These are all legitimate issues to be debated right now. So, let's debate them. My problem with the documentary that aired on SciFi is that it took too many leaps forward to warn of consequences of technologies that do not exist, as if the path we're on now will take us directly to body-munching "nannites" (a term that is used exclusively in the science fiction world, by the way). Yes, I know, it's the SciFi channel. But if we're going to spread fear, let's first "act locally" -- like in our own time.

AST said...

When I was a kid, I read a book that described the wonders of the future including nuclear powered airliners which would hardly ever need refueling.

I suspect that a lot of nanotech predictions will turn out to be as goofy as that one was.

I'm sure nanotech has a future, but it will probably be different than what we expect. Who would have thought in the 50s that we would today have a moratorium on nuclear power, even as we wring our hands over CO2 emissions.

Howard Lovy said...

I wrote a white paper for NanoMarkets about a year ago that touched on that subject:

"The current focus for using nanotechnology in existing markets is partly the result of a venture capital community still smarting from the '90s. But we all sense that sometime over the next five years, the explosion is going to begin and today's nanoscientists and nanoengineers are not going to recognize the pieces they've created. They might not even approve of the less-than-noble products enabled by the magic that they're making in the lab today.

"Maybe it will be a new toy, a new fad, a new game -- something that they did not spend half their life in a laboratory intending to build."

Today, the more I think about it, I'll bet the breakthrough will come in the form of a toy your kids will play with obsessively.