Monday, April 03, 2006

NanoBot's Discard Pile, Part 2

Blogger's Note: This was left on the cutting-room floor, continuing where this passage left off.

... And straight into the path of one, redheaded, red-faced mad Romanian.

His mind is faster than its capacity for English, so one thought runs into another which runs into another, but only a few of them are uttered out loud. He was obviously agitated at me, so the sputtering seemed out of control.

The discussion was of, what else, nanobots. I was muttering something about how the government could tap into popular imagination, about my kids' video games all had the 'bots, but I knew that an appeal to "popular culture" would mean nothing to this man. He interrupts.

"Up to the moment, it was believed by all the community, by science fiction, including by professors. NNI brought this joint ideas. Now, other ideas are on the market. …"

That was him pulling on the starter cord. Then he finds a single thought and the engine is running.

"They should try to develop an idea, to promote a program that develops their own ideas. The idea should go through the peer review process."

I'll pause here quickly. "They" are those who believe that "nanotechnology" means building pretty much anything from the bottom up, from a toaster to a T-Bird, using an assembler technology that currently exists only in computer simulations. "They" believe that the word that Eric Drexler first popularized in his 1986 book "Engines of Creation" – which inspired a generation of dreamers and scientists – was being hijacked by a business community and government funding network that was redefining "nano" to suit purely commercial interests. Nanotech was no longer about cool, self-replicating stuff that zaps diseases and can make the most molecularly perfect gin and tonic. Now, it was all about, well, that emblem of all that is nanocommercial: Nanosized coatings to make pants stain-resistant.

We'll get back to the nanopants later.

"I'd like to see a nanobot or something built, in that concept, a few nanometers doing anything. By the way, most of the scientists are not interested in this. Even if someone … this is something that is not a purpose activity. On the subject of imagination, it is good for a novel, it's very good for that, but you cannot invest money in things that people do not understand."

The novel was "Prey," Michael Crichton's nightmare scenario about out-of-control nanobots that really bugged the hell out of the National Nanotechnology Initiative.

Then, he remembers that he's not speaking to an equal. It's just that shithead blogger, so the tone gets more dismissive and agitated at having to waste his time.

"By the way, please do not confuse real science with things that don't have anything to do with – imagination is very good also …"

Now he is scolding a child.

"I am very concerned, you ask questions that are not, they don't have a meaning, it's more kind of …"

I found my opening and attempted to ride a high horse right through his argument. "Well," I find my pompous ass saying, "it's a question that is on the minds of average consumers of science. Sometimes, it's just scientists talking among themselves, but it's my job to make it understandable to the average …" And that's as much as I could spew before he mows me down with more rhythmic, random words. This guy's no amateur.

"… Please understand, try to encourage to speak, I try to explain and what the issues that you raise why you don't pay attention to a SINGLE WORD." Damn, he sure did enunciate and pronounce those last two words perfectly.

"You should know this," he continued. "I'm not a person, I don't like to be in my position. Take a vote in the room, and if you find one supporter for that idea among the scientists, I give you a prize."

I wasn't aware that "prize" could be a two-syllable word, but somehow he pulled it off, as he looked in my eyes at "pr" and had me talking to his coattails during the "ize," leaving me waving my tape recorder at open air.

I looked around and pretended an exaggerated motion to put my recorder back into my breast pocket.

"So," I thought. "That went well."

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