NanoPundit -Where Society, Science and the Law get really, really small.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

I Hate To Use The Word Luddite

New technology raises hopes for some fears for others. Nanotechnology is no different. Eric Drexler, nanotech hero and bete-noir brainstormed an industry then launched a meme that others are using to sink it. Some people are drawn to the worst case scenario and Drexler gave them Grey Goo, a feared result of self replicating nanobots run amok. Drexler has since backed away stating “runaway replicators, while theoretically possible according to the laws of physics, cannot be built with today’s nanotechnology toolset.”

As Mark Twain said, "A lie can travel half way around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes." In the case of nanotechnology, the truth is still putting on its shoes.

"If enough misinformation spreads, I think there's a tremendous potential to generate a social backlash" said Bo Varga, executive director of NanoSIG, a group based at NASA's Ames Research. Right now the voices in the wilderness are out in force to put a the brakes on nanotechnology. Talk to the folks working on GM foods if you don't think it can happen here. If electricity and the internal combustion engine face this kind of coordinated opposition, I would be writing this by candlelight after shoveling out my stable.

The anti-science ETC Group has added nanotechnology to genetic engineering as a second windmill to at which to tilt. "There's a huge regulatory vacuum looking at the potential toxicity of materials at the nanoscale," said Hope Shand, research director of the ETC Group, an advocacy group based in Canada. "If there are studies that have been done, we haven't seen them. We feel at this point there needs to be a mandatory moratorium on synthetic nanomaterials until we can see laboratory protocols to protect workers and protect the environment."

There are risks involved in all new technologies. Nanotechnology is no different. Does our society want 97% efficient lighting and 50 MPG cars that give consumers the size and safety they demand? The answer to this is self evident and the technology is out there. Unless someone takes action the nano-baby might be thrown out with the bath water.

In the words of Gregg Easterbrook "We’re All Gonna Die" but it ain’t going to be nanotechnology that kills us.


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