Friday, April 28, 2006

Perception is de facto nano fact

Gannett writer Erin Kelly's report this week on nanotech and the environment begins with the extremely thin "news" angle of "Magic Nano" gone horribly awry.

"A preview of what could go wrong happened just last week in Germany, where "Magic Nano" -- a glass and ceramic tile cleaner in an aerosol can -- was recalled by the manufacturer after nearly 100 consumers reported problems breathing."

The main question is neither asked nor answered: Is this a nanotechnology-enabled product, or just a product that uses “nano” in its name?

In the end, though, it hardly matters. As I've written ad nauseam here over the past few years, it is perception that matters (see here, here and here). And to the Gannett reporter's credit, as much is said further down in the story.

"Business leaders said they fear that American consumers could reject nanotechnology -- in much the same way that most Europeans have rejected genetically modified food -- unless they are convinced that protections are in place. The perception of danger by the public -- even if it isn't based on fact -- can kill nanotechnology before its benefits are realized, analysts say."

So, what’s important here is the perception of risk and not actual risk. It makes no difference that Magic Nano does not use nanotechnology. In the public mind, it does, so get over it and go from there. It’s part of a nano dumb show being acted out in public.

Like Lux Research VP Matthew Nordan told the House Science Committee late last year:

" 'Responsible development of nanotechnology -- to ensure that the U.S. obtains the full benefits of nanotechnology applications -- requires addressing both real and perceptual risks.' He added, 'Even if studies showed every commercially relevant nanoparticle to be harmless in every real-world usage scenario, public skepticism about the safety of nanoparticles could still build and sharply limit the use of nanoparticles in products -- similar to the situation encountered with genetically modified organisms in Eurpoe.' "

Matthew is one of the few nanotech industry boosters who “gets it” and will say so in public. He also told the committee (sorry, I do not have a link to the following quote, but it was reported in the Daily Environment Report, No. 223, p. A-5, Nov. 21, 2005, a publication of the Bureau of National Affairs Inc.

“When it comes to public perception, said Nordan, 'it only takes one bad apple to spoil the bunch.' Unfortunately, he added, industry has done 'exceedingly little' on these issues. The problem, Nordan said, is that industry startups that are doing a lot of nanotechnology innovation often avoid such questions so that they do not scare off investors. But such behavior, he added, will be very self-destructive in the long term.”

Having worked both apart from, and inside, the industry I can unequivocally say that Nordan's statement is accurate.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Dummies, goo-be-gone and Crichton's cosmic turd

Steve Jurvetson* cites this peer-reviewed publication's citation of what I'll call the Freitas Fry Factor: Nanobots may be able to gobble the globe in 2.78 hours, but they'll generate so much heat there will be plenty of time to detect the disaster and get the goo to chill.

But what can stop Crichton's cosmic turd?

* for whom I have the greatest admiration and (perhaps alone among all the unpaid, unfunded nanotechnology bloggers with big dreams) whom I recognize as nothing less than an entrepreneurial genius ...

Backgrounder
Three Nano Kings
Freitas on the future
Gray Goo Who?

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Job search soldiers on ...

I just applied for the Director of Outreach position at MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies. If anybody out there has a connection with the Institute (and regards me favorably), please put in a good word. Thanks!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Einstein's dice and the nano Sopranos

video

I have not picked up any more nanobot inferences on ABC's "Lost," but in a recent episode Josh Holloway's character wisecracked, "I say Pasadena." I am not certain of this phrase's cultural meaning, if there is one, but since Sawyer's comment appeared to be random I could only conclude that it was intended as a message for me.

"Why not Pasadena?" I ask myself. For that matter, "Why not Lansing?" where business editor at the State Journal would have been a perfectly respectable alternative.

So, as the multiverse's parallel Howards who made different choices (or who ended up rolling Heisenberg's and Bohr's dice slightly differently) toil away in Lansing and Pasadena, I feel today like Schrodinger's cat: both alive and dead.

Speaking of dead, all this is just a wordy lead-in to a clip of one of the best television scenes of all time. It's from a recent episode of "The Sopranos." There are many elements to this short, minute-and-a-half scene, but it does more to bring quantum physics to street level than any book I've read on the subject. To me, it ranks up there with the "Chuckles the Clown" funeral on Mary Tyler Moore.

Enjoy the video above. Now get the fuck outta here.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

How low can nano go?

Labeling Magic Nano "nanotechnology" is akin to building a tower with a deck of cards and calling it Fort Knox, or taking the scribblings of a blogger and calling it Shakespeare.

Glenn Reynolds basically says it here (much of it based on my reporting over the past few years): If you cheapen the name of nanotech by dancing with Mr. Haney and his Wonder Elixirs, you're going to have to face the consequences of lowering your standards simply to create an imaginary, existing "nanotechnology industry."

Is it too late to raise our standards? Orville and Wilbur never once mistook Kitty Hawk for Mars.

Backgrounder
Groups call for moratorium on nano-named products

Monday, April 10, 2006

Groups call for moratorium on nano-named products

NANOLAND, April 10, 2006 (NBN) -- The aerosol form of Magic Nano, a glass/ceramic sealant that likely contains no actual nanotechnology, has been recalled in Germany after customers were reported hospitalized.

The illnesses were apparently related to the fine mist created by the aerosol -- an effect reported in similar products that do not contain "nano" in their names or marketing materials -- and not with the "nanotechnology" that the product does not contain.

Anti-nanotech activists say the recall is proof that even use of the word "nano" in packaging and marketing is hazardous to consumers.

"We are expanding our call for a moratorium on all nanotech products to cover all products that even use nano in their name," said a spokesperson for a coalition of anti-nanotech organizations. "We believe that when it comes to scary, new technologies that we do not understand, you cannot take too many precautions."

In a related development, area woman Nina Pood is suing Apple Computer, claiming that the IPod Nano -- an anagram of her name -- was created specifically to send mind-controling nanobots into her brain through earbuds that play nothing but Barry Manilow's "Mandy." Apple CEO Steve Jobs denies the allegations, saying, "If Ms. Pood would simply purchase another song at our online iTunes store, she could listen to the entire album for only $9.99."

NanoBot News will stay with this story as long as it remains ridiculous.

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."

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Nano submarine crew saves scientist's life!

voyage1
A super-top secret military project, the Combined Miniature Deterrent Force, succeeded in sending a nanosize submarine crew into a top scientist's bloodstream. After battling anti-bodies and an evil doctor working for the "other side," the crew returned safely through the tear duct.

voyage3   voyage2

raquel1   raquel2   raquel4
The crew, of course, brought along Raquel Welch.