What’s In A Word?

One of the oddest arguments of the molecular manufacturing community (the bunch that believe that nanofactories will lead to eternal life. personal freedom, and do away with the need for money, government, clothes and apparently, good manners or common sense) is their possessiveness of the term nanotechnology.This extract from a recent tirade is typical:

By appropriating the term nanotechnology for what it was they were doing, the scientists had pulled a neat rhetorical trick: they were associating themselves with the wonderful promises of Drexler’s vision without having explicitly promised anything themselves. And they reaped the benefits of billion-dollar funding levels worldwide, interest from investors and the media, the cream of the students, and all the rest.

What always mystified me about the Foresight Institute(and associated groups) is that they simultaneously wanted to keep nanotechnology to themselves but put no effort whatsoever into doing any science that make make their dreams come true. As soon as the scientific community begins to investigate nanotech they start prancing wildly around waving sticks and accusing all kinds of people of stealing it. Now, as a recipient of the Foresight Communications Prize in 2003 I recall that the molecular manufacturing community did all that they could to reap the benefits, it’s just that sitting in front of a computer all day speculating about what a nano enabled Utopia would be like wasn’t felt by government or industry to be an any more worthy recipient of funding than sitting in front of a computer all day speculating on what it would be like to be a potato.

It’s a real shame. The early work by Drexler was uniquely visionary,and I can’t help thinking that his adoption by a bunch of silicon valley nerds rather than exploring the ideas within the scientific community is a mistake of tragic proportions. Certainly demanding that scientists do what they were unwilling or incapable of doing and then getting all bitter and twisted over a word, and a poorly defined one at that, isn’t going to advance their cause.

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