Friday, March 31, 2006

Eggs over easy, hash browns and nano

Actually, I had lunch (spinach pie), and not Breakfast at Angelo's, as the Dick Siegel song says. It's amazing, but during my three years as news editor for Small Times, based in Ann Arbor, Mich., I never once sought repast at the famous Angelo's.

Fortunately, the diner is spitting distance from the Michigan Nanotechnology Institute for Medicine and Biological Sciences (or M-NIMBS, as the institute wants to call itself). A couple of days ago, I met M-NIMBS Director James Baker and Tim Mayleben, CEO of University of Michigan spinout Avidimer Therapeutics (formerly NanoCure Corp.) at Angelo's for some fine dining and a discussion about dendrimers. I snapped the cameraphone picture above on the way out.

Dr. Baker is doing some amazing work not only in nanomedicine, but in forcing chemists and biologists to knock their heads together and produce cancer treatments that actually leave the lab and enter FDA trials. MIT Technology Review recently wrote about his work here. I featured him in a Wired News story last year.

As for me, it feels wonderful to be in my element once again, looking and feeling rushed and disheveled, notebook and tape recorder in hand, and committing random acts of journalism. I'll tell you what I'm working on later.

Son of McMonkey McBean

My prices are low and I work with great speed
And my work is 100 percent guaranteed
by my new patent process of polar potoxis
of the inner subnuclear nusbaum nogotsis
you will get a star like the Star-Bellied Sneetch
for the mere paltry payment of $3 each

-- Sylvester McMonkey McBean, in the televised version of "The Sneetches," by Dr. Seuss

laser in a bottle - designed to mimic the results of laser technology with QuSome, a patented delivery system that nano-encapsulates potent ingredients-green tea and white tea to help skin fight free radical damage; and grapeseed extract to protect collagen and elastin for firmer skin. -- "dr. brandt's" laser in a bottle

Sunday, March 26, 2006

'Lost' in nanobot space

A few months ago, while making frequent flights to California, I found myself hooked on ABC's "Lost," which I downloaded via iTunes and used them to pass the time on cross-country flights (yes, I watched Episode 1 while on a plane. Yikes!)

So, imagine my pleasant surprise when my worlds collided a few episodes ago, and what looked like a nanobot swarm made itself known to one of the bad-ass castaways. Click on the picture above to see the clip for yourself.

Word on the Web is that it's the nanobots that are responsible for making the paralyzed walk and other island "miracles." I've been refraining from reading all the details because I really hate spoilers. I think more will be revealed this Wednesday. For those who do want to read more, I'll provide a few links below.

Island of intrigue
The Transmission: Lost Podcast
Another message board here (bad language used)
Fire+Water Addendum
Bullpucky: The Lost Report

... and blah blah blah ... Let's watch the show, and report back here afterward to tell me whether it sets back real nanotechnology, is scientifically implausible, echoes some real conspiracy theories you've been working on ... or whatever ...

Thursday, March 23, 2006

A response to 'I, Nanobot'

OK, Alan Goldstein, I will not call you Ishmael. But somewhere along your road to Melville, you took a detour into speculative fiction, because that is clearly the genre of your Salon article, I, Nanobot.

The piece needs some work, but it appears to be written in the tradition of writers like Isaac Asimov, author of the article's namesake. Good science fiction takes a kernel of fact and extrapolates strange, new worlds via acres of “therefores.” I applaud Goldstein for this, as I did his previous Salon work, The (really scary) soldier of the future, which was a kind of "Terminator" meets "Gattaca." Most definitely FUD for thought.

So, why listen to me? A voice that, like Goldstein, is not Ishmael (sounds as though Isaac would be the correct branch of both of our family trees, anyway)? Because I can tell you something that just about anybody who has looked at what is called "nanotechnology" today can: He has been hoodwinked by the hype. In reality, scientists are still trying to figure out how to cook up a batch of nanotubes so that they all come out looking the same. We're far, far away from engineering our own extinction. No, if that happens courtesy of science, we'll do it the old-fashioned way and just blow ourselves to smithereens.

I have written before about the primary source of nanotech hype (here, here and here) and have shown how it is neither the media nor the nanobot futurists who are at fault. Most of the hype comes directly from the U.S. government's and nanotech industry's own promotional material about trillion-dollar markets and the dream of converging technologies to enhance "human performance." Nanotech proponents in government and business are continuously asking us to believe their "positive" hype and to dismiss the objections of those, like Goldstein, who take the same information and extrapolate a future dystopia.

Goldstein's article helps to solidify positions against nanotech that I predicted a few years ago -- that the right would turn vocal against a hypothetical, future nanotech that dares to "play God," and the left would organize against its own nano-mythology of out-of-control "green goo," (pissing off Mother Nature.)

But buried within Goldstein's whale of a hyperbolic tale are a few issues we all should consider as the young discipline of "nano-ethics" begins to define the rules of engagement. Do cochlear implants, for example, represent a wondrous cure for deafness, or are they the beginnings of a "genocide" perpetrated by science against the "deaf community?"

These are issues worthy of debate, yet I feel uneasy with the assumption that what occurs in nature is always the best outcome, that there is a pristine Eden that can only exist without the intervention of higher primates.

But, somewhere along the way, with or without the aid of Clarke/Kubrick's monolith, some clever monkeys began to use tools to survive, and those tools – while not physically melding with their bodies – became extensions of them, nevertheless, and guided the species along the path toward evolutionary survival.

Goldstein writes:

"Some people might argue that it is pretty cavalier to work on 'artificial life' or 'synthetic biology' before we have even agreed on definitions for these 'things.' They might even point out that 'artificial life' containing nonbiological components or new forms of biology could drastically alter the ecological balance or even the evolutionary trajectory of life on Earth."

I certainly hope so. The "evolutionary trajectory" of every single species on Earth – from Cro Magnon to South Park Republican – is extinction. The future needs those of us who can adapt.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Please Stand By

Not quite ready for full blogging. Meanwhile, as "hold" music, enjoy the many moods of the Lovy brood -- the result of out-of-control self-replication. I call it "gray goo-goo."

Why the Nano Generation doesn't need us
Maxwell Lovy's NanoDance
I've got more male!
Human Nanofactory in Four Dimensions

Friday, March 10, 2006

Ich bin ein NanoBot

I'm taking care of the children (Max and Sam) today, so there is little opportunity for writing, but watch this space for commentary on this Salon article, along with a slow return of this blog as nanotech's salon des refuses.