Tuesday, May 30, 2006

The Invisible Man and the Five-Year Plan

invisible   invisibleman

Two publications take top prizes for best illustrations of the "invisible cloak" story that made the rounds late last week. National Geographic opted for the minimalist approach, with its "artist's conception a cloak of invisibility ... arranged against a white background" (pictured above left), while ChinaDaily's editors reached into their Little Red Book of Clip Art and pulled out a wonderfully retro Invisible Man (above right).

But I have to award the grand prize to the mad genius from Imperial College London who could not have been more transparent about the real purpose behind this "story."

Professor John Pendry, from Imperial College London, said that it may not take long to develop an invisible fabric - assuming there is sufficient research into the technology.

"If there is adequate funding, I'd have thought it would take in the order of five years," he said.

Note the use of that "five-year" timetable again. There must be a textbook somewhere in Mad Scientist/Entrepreneur University, where pupils are advised to tell the media that amazing, new sci-fi-type technology is only five years away. The five-year plan is cited often in nanotech stories. It makes sense. It's a short enough time span to get the general public all excited and attract some investor curiosity, yet far enough away so that there probably will be no follow-up stories when the time comes.

Those who invoke the five-year rule should be careful, though. The archives of Google News are not likely to do a disappearing act by 2011.

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