Saturday, April 02, 2005

Out of the frying pan ...

Dear Mr.Lovy,

I happened to find an article/comments on nanobot website today, thought maybe it's good to have a conversation with you in order to clarify a few things.

I understand you might have seen many products today which claim that they are 'nanotechnology' based. We use less than 20 nanometer components in our product. I am not sure how to prove it without disclosing our commercial secrets.

Next is OilFresh is a device for frying oil, not a oil bottle.

... I am not trying to challenge you with nanotechnology, but simply try to help not to mislead readers.

Many thanks,

Sonny

Hi, Sonny,

Thanks for your note, and there is no need for you to prove it. I believe that you use components that are less than 20 nanometers, which puts you well under the 100-nanometer threshold that gives you the right to call your product "nanotechnology." That seems to be the generally accepted criteria these days, which means you've earned the right to promote and sell your product as nanotech. And it also, fortunately or unfortunately, places your company inside the radar of every nanotech-watcher who approaches it from every different angle -- from Wall Street to the blogosphere.

I have many running themes on this blog, but one important one is my observation that commercial interests are driving the nanotech vision, redefining “real” nanotechnology to suit what is best for nanobusiness. And that's fine. I have no problem with that, and never have. In fact, I spent three years helping to pioneer "nanotechnology journalism" and was partially responsible for selecting what to label "nanoreality" based on who actually had a business model and a path to products. But, then, I witnessed something abhorrent to me along the way -- an ugly, mean-spirited dismissal and marginalization of anything that did not match the nanobusiness criteria. And it was done for such short-sighted and obvious reasons, I was completely baffled as to why I was one of only a few journalists who bothered to question it. And I've paid a bigger price for taking this stand than I have ever really indicated on this blog.

When I first began to cover nanotechnology, I thought I was going to cover nanotechnology. My naivette was, I discovered, an advantage as a journalist, since I came with no baggage, no preconceived ideas of what nanotech "is" and "is not." But as I explored the "nano world" and its internal divisions, I discovered that it was not only a contest of competing methodologies. It was a contest of competing "mythologies." "My method is correct, yours is a myth and defies the laws of physics." That's how scientists argue. There are no two methods. My world is my world, and if you propose a method from another, you are not only wrong, but you are also dangerous – dangerous because you spread "myths," dangerous because what you say is "possible" will be misused by those who would like to put a stop to all of our work. And the portions of the argument that are convenient for short-term business and investment interests to believe are passed on to the public in the form of pronouncements about what is "real" and what is "mythology."

So, anyway. Where was I? Oh, yeah. OilFresh. Sorry. You were a "target of opportunity" for a bit of sarcasm. You have my blessing to call yourself "nanotechnology" or "Sonnyohtechnology." Whatever you want, and whatever will help you sell your product. Gey gezunt. Just leave some room for a bit of the futuristic stuff -- like building a brand new, atomically precise frying-oil device from the bottom up.

Howard

NanoBot Backgrounder
Time for oily retirement
Wanted: Independent nano watchdog
Nanostuff vs. nanotechnology

3 comments:

Philip Moriarty said...

" I discovered that it was not only a contest of competing methodologies. It was a contest of competing "mythologies." "My method is correct, yours is a myth and defies the laws of physics." That's how scientists argue. There are no two methods. My world is my world, and if you propose a method from another, you are not only wrong, but you are also dangerous – dangerous because you spread "myths," dangerous because what you say is "possible" will be misused by those who would like to put a stop to all of our work."

Howard, correct me if I'm wrong but I guess that in the post above you're alluding to the long-standing debate between the molecular nanotechnology (i.e. the so-called Drexlerite) community and those of us who have a rather more sober outlook on the future of nanoscience? If so, then I can't agree that it's a question of competing "mythologies", as you put it.

As has been pointed out (repeatedly!) on the CRN and Soft Machines blogs, to date there has not been an experimental demonstration of a single mechanosynthesis step as outlined in Drexler's Nanosystems . Moreover, the pioneer of single atom/molecule manipuation, Don Eigler, has severely criticised Drexler's vision (as detailed in recent posts on Nanobot). Moreover, the blogs noted above contain detailed scientific critiques of the molecular nanotechnology vision (see, for example, Debating Nanotechnologies and Is Mechanosynthesis Feasible? The debate continues ).

To dismiss detailed scientific critique and the opinions of world-leading scientists such as Eigler as "a contest of competing mythologies" in my opinion does both sides of the debate a great disservice.

Best wishes,

Philip

Howard Lovy said...

Hi, Phillip.

Believe it or not, this blog is about more than just "molecular manufacturing." When I wrote that, I was neck deep in research for a book proposal I'm working on, and I wasn't thinking solely about mechanosynthesis, but was referring in a more general way to what I've observed in the tone of arguments between scientists working in competing schools of thought.

However, now that you bring it up, many of the arguments I've heard against molecular manufacturing begin with the premise that its proponents are dangerous because they spread "myths" that can be misunderstood by the public and misused by interest groups with an agenda. That is the baseline even before the scientific arguments begin.

I'm not saying this is always true all of the time, but in the context of nanotech in politics and in the war over public perception, this "myth" argument can be read over and over again.

Howard

Philip Moriarty said...

Hi Howard,

Point taken. I note that you've been extremely careful to put the word "myth" in quotation marks throughout!

Best wishes,

Philip