Monday, February 21, 2005


Great NYT piece on nanotech, except why this idea again? "... rampaging nanorobots capture the most attention."

"Capture the most attention" where? I can't think of any legitimate news story that seriously considers "rampaging nanorobots," except when news stories assert that those little things capture the most attention. (Yes, like Major Major of "Catch-22," the only time you're allowed to see them is when they are out.)

Are we talking about a poorly written Michael Crichton novel and some video games and SciFi series? If so, then they should say so. But, then, that would never make it past an editor -- to mix fiction and fact like that. So, you need to present media coverage of "rampaging nanorobots" as if it were fact.

OK. Stuck in a quantum loop. But my rant is over. Here's the story.

Tiny Is Beautiful: Translating 'Nano' Into Practical (The New York Times)

    nanonytIn the hip science of ultrasmall nanotechnology, fantastical future possibilities like rampaging nanorobots capture the most attention, but the first fruits of the field have been more mundane: tiny bits of mostly ordinary stuff that just sit there.

    Yet these bits - nanoparticles - gain wondrous new capabilities simply because they are so small.

    Nanoparticles of various sorts are already found in products like sunscreen, paint and inkjet paper. More exotic varieties offer promise in medicine for sensitive diagnostic tests and novel treatments: the detection of Alzheimer's disease by finding a protein in spinal fluid, for instance, or nanoparticles that heat up and kill cancer cells.

    Some nanoparticles are not even on the cutting edge.

    Medieval artisans unknowingly became nanotechnologists when they made red stained glass by mixing gold chloride into molten glass. That created tiny gold spheres, which absorbed and reflected sunlight in a way that produces a rich ruby color. More here (registration required)

Related Story
Heading South, Looking for an Edge (The New York Times)

NanoBot Backgrounder
The Dark Tower of Babel
Where is the hype?
Nano Product Radio


Anonymous said...

What about the zillion press articles about the planet being reduced to gray goo by "rampaging nanorobots?"

Howard Lovy said...

Well, let's see. A quick Google of Rampaging Nanorobots turns up 21 results. Rampaging Nanobots gives us more, 242 results. Not quite a zillion. It's funny, though. Most of these results turn up stories that refer to fiction or, more often, criticize fears whipped up in the media about "rampaging nanorobots." I'm still looking for the original fear-mongering reports. Could it be a case of "if enough people say it's true, then it is"?


Anonymous said...

A google on "grey goo" "gray goo" turns up about 1,100 hits, according to their search. Not a zillion, but getting closer.

Interestingly, the first 3 are the wikipedia definition, CRN's "Grey goo is a small problem" (*groan* & *grin*), and the "Some limits to global ecophagy..." paper.

I agree it's a relatively minor problem compared to many other issues nanotech brings up. However, many of the defenses/ warning systems suggested in the "Some limits..." paper are *not* implemented, nor do I know of any realistic schedule to do so. While it might be doable to make such - if we don't make the effort, we're still hanging in the breeze.

It's like the majority of people hearing about the problems of computer viruses for the last decade, that there are solutions out there at a relatively low cost, and letting their own systems go unprotected.


Daniel said...

Howard, I was more confused by the article saying that the stained glass was the first nanotech. In fact, this technique of grinding up gold into nanoparticles to create red paints was used in China long before the medieval period in Europe.

Anonymous said...

China? That's interesting - do you have a reference? I'd convinced myself that the earliest recorded use of nanoparticles for size-dependent colour effects was in Caliphate-era Baghdad; I'd wondered whether there was any evidence for this kind of technology in China, but couldn't find anything in my rather cursory search (i.e. flicking through my abridged version of Science and Civilisation in China).

Howard Lovy said...

Well, before we get into which caliphate or which dynasty, the question I have is whether this is just a bunch of nanoparticles sitting around or whether there's any actual "technology" happening at all. The ancients were very clever, perhaps even more clever than we are, but when are we going to finally add some "technology" to our nano?


PajamaHadin said...

Translating 'Nano' into practical, as they say, is undeniably an intriguing prospect. It is full of potential as well as fraught with risks.

I was just in the nation's capital at CPAC 2005 and had the privilege of conversing with Dr. Nigel M. de S. Cameron, president of the Institute on Biotechnology and the Human Future. I have a post on my Blog about the conversation entitled Nanotechnology and the human future. You might find it very interesting.

We spoke about his research into how Europe's High Level Expert Group (HLEG) is grappling with the potential and risks of coverging technologies (CT), the convergence of Nano-, Bio-, Info- and Cogno-technologies.