Drexlerians and Saudi Arabia’s Nanotech

One of the presumed characteristics of those who are adherents to molecular nanotechnology (MNT) as proposed by Eric Drexler is their ability to keep an open mind, while simultaneously pointing out that the rest of us are “too conservative” or “close-minded,” but their open-minded qualities seem to run aground when faced with the prospect of a Saudi Arabian nanotechnology initiative.

 This hostility towards the Saudis developing an initiative to embark on nanotechnology research seemed to first surface in January of this year when the Foresight Institute in its Nanodot blog took umbrage to King Abdullah being the one who approved the funding for research rather than “a government research agency, university, or CEO”.

It seemed that the term “Federal Government” or “National Nanotechnology Initiative” being replaced by “Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz” just wasn’t right as far as they were concerned.

But the real animosity towards the Saudi nanotech initiaative seemed to reveal itself when the author of the post responded in the comments section to a question of where the research scientists would be coming from to support the initiative: “From wherever research scientists would be willing to move to Saudi Arabia, I suppose. Not women scientists, presumably, who might like to — for example — drive a car, or be able to work with their male colleagues.”

Ah yes, not liking the Saudi’s interpretation of Islamic law pertaining to women translates into off-hand disparagement of their nanotechnology initiative.

But things seemed to be improving as we were notified last month that one of the principals at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN) had been invited to deliver a presentation at the first International Conference on Nanotechnology (ICON) to be hosted by the Center of Nanotechnology at King Abdulaziz University.


The title of the presentation was to be “Responsible Nanotechnology”, which can leave one to easily speculate that they invited a representative from the Center of “Responsible Nanotechnology” to speak on the topic based on the title of their organization rather than content of their project of preparing the world for the social and economic disruptions caused from table-top nanofactories.

Nonetheless, CRN expressed genuine excitement at the prospect of traveling to Saudi Arabia to make their presentation.

But then yesterday we got the most appalling scapegoating we’ve seen in some time  when the CRN speaker failed to secure the proper documentation and could not enter into Saudi Arabia, he complained “It seems I’d received incomplete information on visa requirements from my contacts in Jeddah.”

A number of us here at Cientifica have traveled back and forth to Saudi Arabia several times while helping them to develop their plans for a nanotechnology initiative, and not once did we NOT get complete and detailed instructions on how to fulfill our visa requirements. The one caveat is that you have to go to the consulate and get the visa and fill out the appropriate forms. It takes an afternoon.

While this can all be chalked up to “live and learn” (yes, some countries require visas for US passports), it all descends again into Saudi bashing in the comments section, where we get this priceless gem that conjures up 9-11: “Looks like they’re getting back at us for our post 9-11 visa restrictions!”

 It’s hard to see from this type of thinking how the mainly US-led Drexlerians are going to both introduce MNT to the world and make it safe for the societies of the world when they are so hostile to ones that are different to their own.

From our experience, the Saudis are a very hospitable people and are making great strides in diversifying their economy. While social and cultural norms are somewhat different in Riyadh from Palo Alto, things that seem commonplace in Amsterdam would get you arrested in Little Rock. 

Ten years of running around the globe in the service of nanotech has taught me one thing – people are pretty much the same, wherever they live and whatever their colour or religion, and most people are friendly, helpful and hospitable. As Mark Twain remarked, “Travel is fatal to prejudice,” and I can’t help thinking that the Saudi bashers should get out a bit more. 


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