Thursday, August 16, 2007

Truth is stranger than prediction

This is why you should never post anything on a blog at 3:31 a.m., no matter how much sense you think you make at the time ...

So, government bans are bad, yet drive innovation, so they are good. A scientific opinion is fact if enough of the culture believes it to be so ... until the belief falls out of fashion or is dropped out of sheer boredom ... A police state is peace, British Petroleum is green, left and right each support fascism (left in Iraq, right in the U.S.), the environment can be cleaned up through bumper stickers and rock concerts, and we all lived with Fred Flintstone and Dino just a few thousand years ago, sunscreen is dangerous nanotech while molecular manufacturing is impossible, therefore safe ...

I mean, you just can't make this shit up. Stranger than fiction. Welcome to the future, my friends. More here

I love my responsible friends at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology. And friends don't let friends contemplate their own belly buttons for too long.

The truth is, most science fiction -- even in the "golden age" (a time period usually defined by whenever the reader was a lonely teenager with no friends holed up in his room reading SciFi to escape real life) becomes caricature over time, since the future is never really "one thing."

"Predictions" of early 21st century life from the vantage of the last century all appear to me to be cartoonish, since it is ridiculous that we should become "a society of ..." fill in the blank. Instead, life goes on much the same, as our toys become more sophisticated. Almost all pictured either a new fascism arising out of those who control the new technology, or some kind of dull "Star Trekkian" egalitarian society somehow free of bigotry, superstition, hate and humanness.

Even the oft-cited "1984" in the end seems cartoonish to me today, despite the fact that any form of government control or monitoring of anything at all turns "Orwellian" in the exaggerated pen of lazy writers who feel they can just use the catch-all "Big Brother" epithet to end all debate.

I would find the whole lament over lack of decent science fiction pretty funny, except there's a slight edge of truth to the claim that SciFi influences the direction the future will take. I'd go a step further and say that it influences the present, since all one has to do is bring up the specter of an exaggerated, imagined dystopia to get some segments of the public all riled up against any technology.

Why, even sunscreen can be a harbinger of an Orwellian future. "Friends of the Earth" (the group's own self-appointed designation), in its just released Anti-Nano-Sunscreen Manifesto (pdf), very correctly, and I might say responsibly, includes the fine print that the "jury is still out on how readily and how deeply nanoparticles penetrate skin." So far so good. Then it goes on to mention food packaging. Yes, good. Very real. Then, uh-oh ... we're off in Asimov-land:

"And the technology could potentially further affect our lives – from crippling our security and privacy with the creation of never-before-seen weapons and surveillance systems to altering the fabric of the clothes we wear and creating batteries from viruses constructed at the nano-scale. ..."

Heeelllpp!!! Run for the hills!!!! The nano-virus batteries in our suntan lotion and stain-free nanopants are altering my DNA and turning me into a DARPA robot!!!!

I love escapist science fiction. But. Nahh. We really don't need any more SciFi influencing current debates. Like I wrote at 3:31 a.m. to my friends at CRN. Just take a look at the bizarre events swirling around technology in real life.

Irresponsible NanoHype

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