Financial Times describes nano-machines, but needs history lesson

from the journalistic-double-standards dept.
An article in Londonís Financial Times ("Inside Track: Nanotechnology", by Fiona Harvey, 23 April 2001) presents a generally optimistic overview of ongoing efforts to develop machine-based nanotechnology, but gets it really wrong when assigning proper credit for the development of these concepts.

Read more to see why . . . The article mentions a number of research efforts into nanotubes and other potential nanodevice components, and states nanotechnology "holds out the promise of manufacturing tiny machines that would form themselves into the desired shape without manipulation — machines that would be, in effect, self-assembling. Such an ability is crucial, as it would be unthinkably expensive to craft each one individually in a laboratory." And: "Nano-machines will need components such as springs, bearings, wheels, belts and levers. These must be painstakingly created and tested in labs." As for applications: "Armed with such components, nano-engineers could build tiny robots, or machines that could construct and repair structures too small for us to see. Pesticides made of tiny machines could crawl over crops killing insects. Military machines could swarm over the enemy's weapons." The article also mentions "developing nanoscale computers that will carry out calculations within individual molecules. Health workers envisage nanoscale machines that will enter the body to deliver drugs or repair tissues."

But the piece fails utterly in its assignment of credit on where these ideas originated, stating that nanotechnology got its start in 1985 when Smalley, Curl and Kroto discovered fullerenes (buckyballs). The article mentions Eric Drexler only as the founder of the MIT Nanotechnology Study Group and the author of the "cult classicî, Engines of Creation, who has "come up with outlandish suggestions, such as the 'grey goo'." The article contains a dismissive quote from Stanley Williams from Hewlett-Packard Laboratories: "I don't believe in this grey goo stuff." He derides Dr Drexler's work as insufficiently scientific.

Apparently the author (and Williams) have never taken a look at Nanosystems, or Drexler's molecular machine design work at the Institute for Molecular Manufacturing. Nearly every one of the nano-machine concepts and applications mentioned above were described by Drexler beginning in the early 1980s.

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