Richard Smalley derides concept of nanobots

from the sigh dept.
Both nanofluidicist and Sander Olson call our attention to comments by Richard Smalley of Rice University in the recently released NSET report on the societal implications of nanotechnoogy. In the report, while making remarks in support of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative, Smalley makes reference to the scare that has been raised over the possibility for autonomous, self-replicating nanorobots. According to Smalley, nanobots are "an impossible, childish fantasy," a "fuzzy-minded nightmare dream."

A response to similar comments attributed to Smalley last November appeared in Foresight Update #43.

Read more for an excerpt of Smalley's comment from the report. Smalley's comments appear in the following section of the report:

R.E. Smalley, Rice University

The National Nanotechnology Initiative is a vital step toward reinvigoration of our nationís youth for careers in science and technology. Technology at the nanometer scale where we strive to build in Natureís way at the ultimate level of finesse, one atom at a time, offers our best hope of alleviating human suffering, solving the most vexing of worldwide environmental problems, and raising the standard of living of the burgeoning global population through technical innovation and economic growth. The combination of high tech gee whiz, high social impact, and economic good sense gives the dream of nanotechnology the ability to inspire our nationís youth toward science unlike any event since Sputnik.

Yet there are concerns. Some wonder that the power of nanotechnology may be so great that becomes both its own, and humanityís, undoing. Such fears are deeply embedded in our culture, reaching back to the oldest myths of the Garden of Eden and the Forbidden Fruit. Now in the millennial year 2000 the principal fear is that it may be possible to create a new life form, a self-replicating nanoscale robot, a ìnanobot.î Microscopic in size, yet able to be programmed to make not only another copy of itself, but virtually anything else that can be imagined, these nanobots are both enabling fantasy and dark nightmare in the popularized conception of nanotechnology. They would enable the general transformation of software into atomic reality. For fundamental reasons I am convinced these nanobots are an impossible, childish fantasy. The assembly of complex molecular structures is vastly more subtle and complex than is appreciated by the dreamers of these tiny mechanical robots.

We should not let this fuzzy-minded nightmare dream scare us away from nanotechnology. Nanobots are not real. Letís turn on the lights and talk about it. Letís educate ourselves as to how chemistry and biology really work. The NNI should go forward both here in the U.S. and in major research programs around the planet."

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