Nobel chemist: why we MUST develop nanotechnology

from the well-OK-if-they-insist dept.
Given all the teeth-gnashing and hair-rending about the ethics of nanotechnology, it's worth reviewing Nobel chemist Rick Smalley's case that we must develop nanotech to deal with urgent problems: "Even given that, even if we stop population growth somewhere between 6 and 10 billion people, we can't sustain even the current population with the current technology. So for the 50 years, there's really only one good alternative: we need more technology, not less. It has to be green, it has to be clean, and it has to be closed loop. And I am confident that in almost every area the keys to these technologies are going to come when we start learning how to put things together one atom at a time on the nanometer scale…We need it urgently to get through these next 50 years. It will be a challenge. But, I am confident we will succeed."

Gelernter's "Second Coming": Prose Poem on Future of Computing

David Gelernter (author of Mirror Worlds and other visionary books on computing) has published an essay on John Brockman's Edge site, titled "The Second Coming: A Manifesto". It's a prose-poem-slash-state-of-the-union-address about the potential for making our computers much more useful, intuitive, and unobtrusive. I say "prose poem" because it is rich in metaphors like "lifestreams", "cyberbodies", and "microcosms" that Gelernter argues are more useful than files, directories, desktops, etc. His castle-in-the-air vision is worthy of having a foundation built under it.

Stanford biophysicist critiques nanoenthusiasts

from the maybe-he's-not-all-wrong dept.
28 June, CP: This has been toned down at the request of a former Foresight Conference chair. YakiraHeyman reports that many Foresight members alerted us to this story on WiredNews: "Some scientists believe that nanotechnology will transform computing, biotechnology, and medicine, even proclaiming that the technology will one day solve every problem from hunger to disease. But researcher Steven Block has one thing to say to these nanotech Polyannas: Wake up." Read More for additional quotes. (Important: please don't send rude email to Prof. Block; he makes some good points.) Query to Nanodot readers: If some call us PollyAnna (too optimistic) and some call us Chicken Little (too pessimistic), does that mean we are about right?

Xerox PARC's JSB on nanotechnology

from the yet-another-response-to-Bill-Joy dept.
GlennReynolds brings to our attention a worthwhile essay coauthored by Xerox PARC's director, John Seely Brown, pointing out that "Nanotechnology offers a rather different example of how the future can frighten us. Because the technology involves engineering at a molecular level, both the promise and the threat seem immeasurable…nano devices are theoretically feasible. No one, however, has laid out a route from lab-based simulation to practical systems in any detail. (emphasis added) In the absence of a plan, it's important to ask the right questions: Can nanotechnology fulfill its great potential in tasks ranging from data storage to pollution control, all without spiraling out of control? If the lesson of genetic engineering is any guide, planners would do well to consult and educate the public early on, even though useful nano systems are probably decades away." Query to JSB: Good points. But is there a particular reason why we're assuming such a plan hasn't been prepared?

Must We Technologists Interact with Government?

from the to-lobby-or-not-to-lobby dept.
A relatively high-quality debate is developing on how to preserve/enhance Internet freedom and privacy. Should we attempt to use government-related mechanisms (lobbying, lawsuits) or focus on technical innovation as our primary tool? Eric Raymond, Lawrence Lessig of Harvard–both openness proponents–and three others debate in round 3. Let's try to pick up some pointers we can use on the same question for nanotech: ignore government or try to work with it? Regardless of the right answer for the Internet, nanotech folks may need to do the latter, operating as we do in meatspace, not cyberspace. What do you think?

Dangers of Nanotech "Relinquishment"

from the just-say-no-to-just-say-no dept.
More debate on the issues raised in the press recently by Bill Joy, this time by Foresight board member Glenn Reynolds, writing for 'Rather than too much technology, as Joy suggests, perhaps the problem is that we have too little. In the early days of nanotechnology, dangerous technologies may enjoy an advantage. Once the technology matures, it is likely that dangerous uses can be contained. The real danger of the sort of limits Joy proposes is that they may retard the development of constructive technologies, thus actually lengthening the window of vulnerability.'

Why the future needs Bill Joy

from the we-don't-want-a-Joyless-future dept.
Jonathan Desp writes "Tihamer Toth-Fejel wrote a think piece on Bill Joy's technology concerns, available here where he is saying: Our hubris may make it possible for robotics, genetic engineering, and nanotechnology to drive us and our environment into utter extinction. But if we humbly work hard, dig for truth, and love each other, we might just tame the galaxy and live happily ever after. Most likely, we'll muddle through with only a few major catastrophes….I'm glad that Bill Joy is searching. I hope that many join this search, and I hope that as technologists, we can come up with better intellectual tools to aid in that search."

Postrel responds to Bill Joy

from the sky-may-not-in-fact-be-falling dept.
Virginia Postrel, Editor-at-Large for Reason magazine (whom you may have met at last year's Senior Associates Gathering) responds in the most recent issue to Bill Joy's Wired essay calling for "relinquishment" of advanced technologies. Virginia's rebuttal is concise, well-informed, and eloquent; too bad she won't get a tenth of the media coverage Joy has.

John C. Dvorak: Bill Joy vs The Robots

from the I-use-qwerty-myself dept.
waynerad writes "Columnist John C Dvorak wrote a humorous column a while back, Bill Joy vs the Robots. Dvorak has made a name for himself by turning people's crackpot ideas into good punchlines. Check it out and see what crackpots he thinks Bill Joy, Ray Kurzweil, and the rest of us are. A preview of things to come, I'm sure." Of all the wrong people out there, the ones who say "Don't worry; it'll never happen" are the ones that worry me the least. Nearly everyone recognizes nowadays that technology is accelerating; even my barber knows about Moore's law (better than Dvorak does, apparently).

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