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Responsible Nanotechnology Interview

ScuttleMonkey posted more than 8 years ago | from the afraid-of-skynet dept.

Technology 65

cynical writes "WorldChanging has a lengthy interview with Chris Phoenix and Mike Treder of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, a non-profit group helping to make sure molecular manufacturing is developed as safely as possible. In the article they talk about their policy task force (which includes folks like Ray Kurzweil, David Brin, and Jaron Lanier), the risks and benefits of nanofactories, and why open source is so important to the responsible development of nanotechnology."

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65 comments

Coral cache of article and other links (3, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14658453)

I don't know how durable WorldChanging's servers are, but just in case, here's a coral cache of the article:

http://www.worldchanging.com.nyud.net:8090/archive s/004078.html [nyud.net]

Additionally, here's the web site for the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology: http://www.crnano.org/ [crnano.org]

Other links:
* Wikipedia article [wikipedia.org]
* Responsible Nanotechnology blog [typepad.com]
* Wise-Nano [wise-nano.org]: their collaborate website (i.e. wiki) for "studying the facts and implications of advanced nanotechnology"

(I tried to post this anonymously, but Slashdot gave me a "There was an unknown error in the submission" error. I guess I'll have to risk being modded down for karma-whoring.)

Re:Coral cache of article and other links (1)

Rxke (644923) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659119)

Chris Phoenix is a genuinely Nice Guy (TM) When he started out with CRN, one of the first things he did was publish some fairly detailed papers. I thought that was great, 99% of the stuff you could find re: nanomanufacturing was severely dumbed-down or market-speak nonsense. And the interesting ones are subscribers-only. So I sent him a thank-you email for the effort to publish the stuff so everyone could read it, not only paying scientists with gazillions of subscriptions. I never expected to get a reply, but one or two days later there was a pleasant, personal reply, complete with (rusty) Dutch sentence in it to boot (I mentioned I was Belgian) IMO, this attitude is reflected in the whole of CRN, open discussion, open to critique, etc. Well worth a visit.

Wow (1)

LiquidCoooled (634315) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658460)

Chris Pheonix and Mike Treder are both infected by nanites!
Somebody quick help them, they are all over their faces.

They also have a nice graph showing the links to the development stages and what aims and benefits it gets.
Strangely absent are steps II and III. One of them has to be Military, any guesses on the other one?

Re:Wow (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14658569)

porn?

Intellectual property (3, Interesting)

quokkapox (847798) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658462)

IP must be protected at all costs; we cannot have people manufacturing patented and copyrighted molecules on their desktops like we have people irresponsibly trading copyrighted intellectual property (books, movies, and music) today.

Discuss. :)

Re:Intellectual property (3, Interesting)

GroeFaZ (850443) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658640)

It is very possible that desktop manufacturing will - in the beginning at least - cause the same problems as P2P downloading does today, including so-called "pirating" of designs, because all atomically precise blueprints can be shared just like an .mp3 file today. The only difference will be the dimensions: While P2P "only" affected the music, software and movie industry, desktop manufacturing will affect almost every branch of industry that produces physical products. I think the results of this cannot be underestimated. It will bring the equivalent of free/open source to the physical world and thus to everyone who can download it, and there will be editors to modify them at one's discretion. Just like today, there will be broad attempts to vilify the free alternatives, but just like in software today, people will not be willing to pay for a spoon design if there's a perfectly working spoon design available (and with less bugs at that :) any more than they would pay money to get a calculator program.

Add to that the possibility of desktop feedstock refining: just throw in the old stuff to break it down and get something new out of its atoms, and you get a veritable revolution at your hands.

The alternatives are clear: Designs are restricted at the manufacturer's will, programing the nanofactory is illegal under the DMCA, and feedstock is sold by the hp principle: give away the factory, earn money through the proprietary feedstock cartridges. Pay for every time you assemble a product, even if you paid for its design already. DRM galore.

Which is it going to be?

Re:Intellectual property (1)

FleaPlus (6935) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658742)

It will bring the equivalent of free/open source to the physical world and thus to everyone who can download it, and there will be editors to modify them at one's discretion.

Not only that, but what about the physical parallels to information which is illegal nowadays, like child pornography? For example, what do gun control laws mean if anybody can trivially construct their own firearms?

Re:Intellectual property (1)

zopf (897522) | more than 8 years ago | (#14667526)

Interesting, but I think the same economic rules will apply tomorrow that do today. I can look up the reaction mechanism for the oxidation of borneol to camphor and perform the conversion with a minumum of lab equipment, but it's still far easier and cheaper to just buy some Vick's Vapo-Rub at the store. What makes you think that desktop technology will outpace industrial experts (or that the commercial market will allow it to)?

Your DMCA and HP analogies are apt, however. I can certainly imagine companies selling a nano-easy-bake-oven of sorts that requires expensive chemical cartridges or stocks.

Re:Intellectual property (1)

bitspotter (455598) | more than 8 years ago | (#14668119)

Software, movies, and music are just information. Private industry groups have been working very hard to get the legislative and law enforcement help they need to corner their markets.

nanofactories and their larger-than-molecular-scale recursive fabs (any machine that can make things and copies of itself) will help people make much more dangerous //physical stuff//. Blades, bombs, guns, springs, mines, etc. Even if it can't make chemical explosives, there's a lot you can do with simple, malleable mechanical devices. Human grass-roots ingenuity is always surprising: just ask any hacker.

This problem won't just be opposed by entrenched manufacturing interests - it will be a national security issue. The war on terror fucknuts are going to have a field day scaring us out of our freedoms with this one. It will either force us to ban fabs with heavy penalties, creating a pretty dim draconian future, or actually retake control of our governments.

You'd better get started now. Projects like http://reprap.org/ [reprap.org] are likely to produce primitive self-replicating fabricators by the end of the decade.

Actually, IP works quite well in chemistry (1)

Ogemaniac (841129) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659122)

Software patents may be a mess, but chemical ones are generally not.

Please don't assume the problems of software patents extend to all types. They don't.

Re:Actually, IP works quite well in chemistry (1)

N_Piper (940061) | more than 8 years ago | (#14660248)

No the problems with software patents don't entend to chemistry... there are an entirely diffrent set of problems.
Two words on chemical patents, "Big Pharma".
yea it only costs me $400+ a month to keep myself from climbing a water-tower with a rifle and a high power scope.
No problem with patents none at all...

A PhD scientist costs $500,000 / year (1)

Ogemaniac (841129) | more than 8 years ago | (#14664289)

Including salary, benefits, equipment, facilities, and support staff. "Big Pharma" and the major chemical companies have thousands of PhDs eac.

Someone has to pay those salaries, or your drug wouldn't exist in the first place. It really is that simple.

Oh joy open source grey goo! (2, Funny)

MarkTina (611072) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658463)

Just what I want, some 14 year old nerd turning the world into grey goo because he was playing with open source nanotechnology and thought he could make a great PacMan clone ...

Re:Oh joy open source grey goo! (1)

gr3g (119302) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658638)

I've always wondered about the problem of grey goo. I mean if it were possible wouldn't bacteria have figured out how to do it. I've noticed that alot of the problems inherent in nanotech seem to be reinventing the wheel when some microorganism already solved that problem 2 billion years ago.

Re:Oh joy open source grey goo! (2, Interesting)

GroeFaZ (850443) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658656)

I know you were kidding, but let me just point out that the "grey goo by accident" concept is outdated and not very probable. In fact, its "inventor", Eric Drexler, wrote a paper why his earlier warnings in Engines of Creation [foresight.org] will not apply. Basically, the argument is that in nanofactories, the assemblers are not floating freely, but are tied up in rigid and designed patterns to make assembly most efficient. Because such a fixed design is more efficient then self-organising floating assemblers, there is no economic incentive to do floating assemblers and thus no danger of grea goo by accident. Intent might be another story of course.

Re:Oh joy open source grey goo! (1)

Patrik_AKA_RedX (624423) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658683)

I doubt grey goo is possible. To make a replicator you'll need a number of differend atoms, now not all atoms are equaly abundant or even available everywhere. So grey goo would form until it used up one of its required materials (like any other chemical reaction).
If you want to fear a scenario, picture what some madman (m/f) could do with nanobots. Don't like a particular group of people? Figure out some genetic simularity, program your nanobot-virus and release. Lots of possibilities there.

Re:Oh joy open source grey goo! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14658731)

Ok, no grey goo. How about a death cloud of acid?

Re:Oh joy open source grey goo! (1)

Glock27 (446276) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658895)

Just what I want, some 14 year old nerd turning the world into grey goo because he was playing with open source nanotechnology and thought he could make a great PacMan clone ...

I don't think a literal "gray goo" is possible based on energy concerns. I suppose I could imagine a plague of very small autonomous inimical robots...that could be very bad. Wouldn't want someone creating a plague of those in his basement. ;-)

It'll be interesting to see what's really possible.

Re:Oh joy open source grey goo! (1)

isopossu (681431) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659575)

Don't worry. The kids who used to cause nuclear wars with their home computers are now in their thirties.

prediction: America practices safe nanotechnology (1)

Travoltus (110240) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658471)

while foreign countries in an area of the world I won't speficially mention, will go balls-to-the-walls with potentially dangerous nanotech research by unethical means.

Who will win the nanotech race?

This reminds me of the actions of a certain Korean cloning researcher who recently got caught in a scandal.

IMHO, ethics has finally come within sight of a potential head to head battle with progress, in that ethical nations will have a disadvantage against unethical nations.

Re:prediction: America practices safe nanotechnolo (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14658550)

... just like America practices safe biotechnology. Did you lot ever
find out where the militarised anthrax was coming from? It seems to
have gone quiet on that front ...

Re:prediction: America practices safe nanotechnolo (1)

kfg (145172) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659124)

. . .ethical nations. . .

And unicorns.

KFG

why do you assume america is perfect?! (0, Troll)

majid_aldo (812530) | more than 8 years ago | (#14660616)

why do you assume no "evil" comes out of america?!

the parent post was NOT a troll post (1)

Travoltus (110240) | more than 8 years ago | (#14665480)

majid aldo's right and I made an oversight... the US, or any company therein, is quite capable of doing evil things with nanotechnology... hence the creation of the nano-ethics initiative.

My post optimistically assumed that America would be more aware of nanotech ethics than certain other countries, and that assumption remains yet to be proven.

I'm sorry for any arrogance my post conveyed.

The REAL argument is how will ethical nations, in general, compete against unethical nations, in the coming and inevitable biotech and nanotech arms race?

nano-beard update (2, Funny)

plierhead (570797) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658497)

From TFA:

WorldChanging: So, to start -- what is the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology hoping to make happen?

Center for Responsible Nanotechnology: We want to help create a world in which advanced beard technology -- nano-beards -- is widely used for beneficial purposes, and in which the risks are responsibly managed. The ability to manufacture highly advanced nano-beard products, such as those adorning our own faces right now at an exponentially accelerating pace will have profound and perilous implications for all of society, and our goal is to lay a foundation for handling them wisely.

For goodness' sake! (2, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14658504)

"Molecular manufacturing" is absolutely pure 100% unadulterated science fiction right now. There's a possibility that some of the concepts discussed might be utilized in some sense in 20-50-100 years, but quite honestly, do we really need a "Center for Responsible Nanotechnology" right now? They would be more useful campaigning for more research into how exposure to radiation can give people superhero powers.

Re:For goodness' sake! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14658718)

Well, that's probably why their task force is staffed by writers, not scientists. They are probably tasked to write more responsible fictional nanotechnology than the current irreponsible fictional technology we are saddled with. This is a noble cause and there is no reason to get all worked up just because theit problem and its solutions are both fictional.

I agree, this is a waste of time (1)

Ogemaniac (841129) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659138)

They are speculating so far out that it would be something like Grover Cleveland trying to pass regulations on solar power generators.

There is no reason to be worrying about technologies that are many decades in the future, outside of the pure fun of idle speculation. Taking yourself seriously, though, probably means you have a screw loose or three.

Re:I agree, this is a waste of time (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 8 years ago | (#14660556)

Sure but...

Naval Officer: Sir! We need to build an all steel non-sail navy!
Grover Cleavland: Pollycock and brumbule boo! Thats all that HG Wells you've been reading.
Navel Officer: But the British are building one.
Gorver Cleavland: Oh...

Einstein: We need to make an atomic bomb.
Franklin D. Rosevelt: Hogwash and crumsticks! This is pure scientific fictionary. Never ever ever happen in our lifetimes. I dare say we won't see an Atomic bomb til the 21st century.
Einstein: But the Nazi's are building one.
Frankling D. Rosevelt: Oh hell...

Scientific Adivsor: Mr. President! We need to make a self replicating nanobots !
Bush: Oh you've been reading those Chrichton books again having you. Well grey goo a foo foo... you do a grey goo foo...
Scientific Advisor: But... Um... The Chinese are building one.
Bush: Oh... Um... Where is my check book.

Get back to me when the Chinese start (1)

Ogemaniac (841129) | more than 8 years ago | (#14664310)

building self-replicating nanobots. Hell, get back to me when someone even demonstrates that it is even possible to do so in principle.

Re:For goodness' sake! (2, Insightful)

AndersOSU (873247) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659208)

I agree, I started to read TFA, but I soon realized that it read like someone in 1960 promising flying cars by 2000.

Their whole concept of nano tech is based on the premise that we can build factories that can build anything they want - with no constraint on power or materials.

Yeah yeah, "one of the first projects couild be a massive solar array..." to which I answer, even if we had cheeply available power, something I consider much more likely than their verson of nanotech, you would still need nano miners mining nano iron and shipping it on nano trains to the nano factory so they can make my rocket car. In short it's not going to happen because nano is limited by scale to something small, a nano infrastructure is no longer nano.

IMO what the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology should be doing is funding groups that are trying to see if nanotubes can actually be absorbed by the body, and if so do they actually interfere with biological processes. Oh but wait, that work is already being done by orginizations with out the rocket-car blueprints.

Re:For goodness' sake! (1)

popeyethesailor (325796) | more than 8 years ago | (#14660093)

I still have trouble believing that the computer I am typing right now has billions of transistors, working in precision.

I see these developments as more or less inevitable. The first compiler-writer did not have a compiler. Same for machine tools, automobiles and various other enterprises. We all start small. Scaling up is limited only by imagination.

Re:Its a political/societal reason not a tech one (1)

vertinox (846076) | more than 8 years ago | (#14660159)

I agree, I started to read TFA, but I soon realized that it read like someone in 1960 promising flying cars by 2000.

Actually, the fact that we didn't have flying cars in 2000 was more of a political issue than a technological issue. After all, would you really want Grandma traveling at high velocities through the air?

Think about how crappy we drive on the roads and imagine all the damage and death by drunk drivers alone in flying cars. Imagine is the local terrorist could just hop in a flying car and drive into a building.

No... That was just optimistic thinking not about technology in the 60's but on human nature. Truth be told we won't see flying cars until all our ground cars are automated and are under control of AI with no manual over ride.

However, think of it like this... These guys are talking about Atomic bombs and their ramifications, but today is 1906 and we won't have a bomb until 1945.

Given their ability to terminate all life on the planet and provide us with endless benefits it wouldn't hurt to go ahead and discuss their ramnifications before we just let it happen willy nilly. (Atomic bomb/nano weapons vs nuclear energy/replicators)

I mean we were only a flip switch from blowing ourselves away several times during the cold war and if today is 1906 we've got two more World Wars before we hit 1945 (2045).

Cytotoxicity (1)

Spy der Mann (805235) | more than 8 years ago | (#14662428)

but quite honestly, do we really need a "Center for Responsible Nanotechnology" right now?

One word: Cytotoxicity.

Nanotubes and buckyballs are so small that they can infest your lungs and bloodstream in no time. I recall reading a research paper about buckyballs being able to destroy DNA when they get to the cells.
Just imagine the consequences from an outbreak in a nanomaterials factory.

This is NOT about grey goo and other sci-fi monsters... This is about potentially toxic materials (materials that nature is NOT prepared to deal with) on the loose. Do we know how to deal with such disasters? Is there a way to get rid of toxic molecules after they reach the sea? At least oil spills are somewhat recoverable because oil doesn't fall to the bottom of the sea, but what about soluble particles? What will happen to the species contaminated with them?

No, it's not a trivial problem. And as they say, better safe than sorry.

Should not there be a Responsible /.ing Committe?? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14658521)

n/t

Safe nanotech? Nah (1, Interesting)

PhakeDC (932887) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658570)

There always will be malicious use for nanotech by notorious governments and private firms, no amount of "responsible" scientists will change human behaviour. I'd suggest reading Prey by Michael Crichton to comprehend the true extent and ease with which certain people could develop serious threats using nanotech. Not to say all is doomed when nanotech hits mainstream, I'm bracing myself for at least a few nasty surprises along the way.

What the hell is it with /. and Michael Crichton? (4, Funny)

meringuoid (568297) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658595)

I'd suggest reading Prey by Michael Crichton to comprehend the true extent and ease with which certain people could develop serious threats using nanotech.

Bloody hell. Every time there's a global warming story, some goon who's mistaken a thriller novel for a scientific paper cites Crichton as evidence that it's all a lefty environmentalist conspiracy. Now Crichton gets raised as an authority on nanotech.

That does it. Next time there's a story on genetics or cloning, I'm going to say it's a bad idea because look what happened in Jurassic Park.

Re:What the hell is it with /. and Michael Crichto (1)

Feanturi (99866) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658848)

But everything in books is true. They found out that hobbits were real didn't they?

Re:What the hell is it with /. and Michael Crichto (1)

Otter (3800) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659118)

Given that the "real" experts on this project are "folks like Ray Kurzweil, David Brin, and Jaron Lanier", I don't see how Crichton is any less of an authority. He's probably the only one of them who has taken an organic chemistry class.

Definitely not Prey (1)

Chemisor (97276) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658871)

"Prey" is a very bad book to learn about nanotech threats from. However, I would recommend two others:

Crescent City Rhapsody [amazon.com] by Kathleen Ann Goonan demonstrates by example the threat of nanoplagues and what they can do. She has other novels in this series dealing with similar subjects, which I also recommend.

Anvil of Stars [amazon.com] by Greg Bear has a lot of information about interstellar warfare with nanotechnological weapons.

Sadly, there aren't any more that I've seen. Most authors fall into the same pits as Michael Crichton, as illustrated in "Assemblers of Infinity" and "Blood Music", and seldom "get it" when it comes to the subject of nanotech warfare.

Re:Safe nanotech? Nah (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14659244)

Aside from getting nanotech highly wrong, Prey is also pretty badly written. Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age is at least amusing and stylish, and you might learn something about nanotech. Maybe.

Foresight (2, Informative)

Suicyco (88284) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658571)

Hasn't the Foresight Institute been doing this for many years?

http://www.foresight.org/ [foresight.org]

Interesting article though. I dig reading about nanotech, its the coolest sci-fi-ish tech thats just around teh corner somewhere.

CRN has been doing it for many years too (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14660137)

I first read http://www.crnano.org/overview.htm [crnano.org] about 3 years ago.

If you haven't read it, you should read it too. Try to keep an open mind--try to imagine what the future might be like if their predictions come true!

Re:Foresight (1)

ppanon (16583) | more than 8 years ago | (#14660166)

Well, it's always been one aspect of Foresight's activities, but Foresight's main purpose for decades has been advocacy. There can be a conflict of interest between advocacy and the safety-oriented research that CRN appears to be focused on. So the groups are complementary. The rise of groups like CRN is good, it means that Foresight's advocacy work has been so successful that we have advanced far enough to need to start to worry about health and safety issues.

Re:Foresight (1)

said_captain_said_wo (889009) | more than 8 years ago | (#14661118)

Yes, Foresight has been doing similar work for quite a while (founded in 1986). From Foresight's About page [foresight.org], it says:
Foresight Nanotech Institutes mission is to ensure the beneficial implementation of nanotechnology.
, and
to educate society about the benefits and risks of nanotechnology.
From CRN:
The mission of CRN is to raise awareness of the issues presented by nanotechnology: the benefits and dangers, and the possibilities for responsible use.
, so it certainly sounds like there is overlap between these two organizations.

I've been to a Foresight technical conference, and enjoyed it.

Hahaha... (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14658672)

The next Slashdot story is visible early to free day pass visitors; sponsored by Verizon Business.

And I don't care.

Fat lot of good they will do. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14658699)

The U.S.A. fudges moral boundaries in modern warfare (no examples necessary, par for the course...) and many other developing and third world countries. These people will achieve nothing worthwhile.

Open Source ? (1)

Yvanhoe (564877) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658744)

They must be joking. On the contrary, the tool to make them should remain under heavy control and guarded like a nuclear warhead.

I mean, the geek analogy would be to say that you want to give everyone a PHLAK distribution, while our body runs an unpatched Win ME.

Why is it... (1)

Kranfer (620510) | more than 8 years ago | (#14658806)

Whenever the morality, ethics, or safety of Nanotechnology is brought up I think of the Excellent book by Michael Crichton... While I do agree with everything in the interview and how safety and open source would benefit it... I can't stop and think back to that book.

Re:Why is it... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14662740)

Probably, because you're woefully uniformed about the actual science and latch on to the simplistic morality plays of Michael Crichton which teach us that science and progress are bad. In a simpler time you'd be out with the Luddites smashing mechanical looms.

Purdue Nanotech Center Opens This Week (1)

70Bang (805280) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659305)



Here's [insideindi...siness.com] something covering the opening of the new Purdue nanotech center...perhaps relevant for someone who can use the after-knowledge...


Related to a letter I wrote last week... (1)

80's Greg (457939) | more than 8 years ago | (#14659943)

I heard a rumour the other day, and I have to say I was delighted when I heard it. My friend told me that Marriott is taking customers into the 21st century by spiking nanobots into their shampoos so that guests can be tracked throughout the hotel and provided services without even presenting a room key. For example, I noticed it right away at my current stay when I approached the concierge lounge and the doors were open. I was greeted by the attendant, and offered food, drinks, snacks, and all the television I could watch. I saw several episodes of Jeopardy and America's Funniest Videos. The video that won on Tuesday night was this lady jumping around doing half-cartwheels and doing a face plant after receiving a diamond ring. What a good laugh that was.

My point is that I was greeted without showing any identification, room key, or stating my name or room number. How else would the concierge have known? I figured my friend was right - nanobots. I think putting nanobots in the shampoo is ingenious, since not only is the process seamlessly integrated into a normal routine of all guests, but they are undetected by the human eye and harmless to the scalpal regions. Imagine all the possibilities - no more room keys, knowing when young children venture into the pool area without supervision, and express checkout - all because of sensors interacting with the nanobots from the shampoo.

I'm sure that there are all sorts of exciting surprises to come. If you want to send me some of them, that would be fantastic. I can say that I hope you at least never replace your real staff with robot staff, because I find they're all super friendly and a pleasure to talk to. I think we're at least a few years off from having robots like that!

Thanks,

Greg

Richard Smally V. Eric Drexler (2, Interesting)

MaxiumMahem (933757) | more than 8 years ago | (#14660340)

As a chemist, it sometimes gets to me when Engineers and Computer Scientists take extrapolations from our macro-scale world, and then translate them down to the nano-scale, without recognising how terribly diffrent the two are. Mechanosythisis and machinephase matter are simply silly concepts on the nano-scale. Atoms and molecules are not nice stable things which will sit still and alow you to pluck them from one position to another. No, they are constantly moving and bouncing into one another at high speeds, changing their shape, and undergoing small reaction constantly.

Richard Smally, who shared the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for his co-discovery of the Buckyball once tried to point this out to Eric Drexler in a published series of articles. [acs.org], but the nano-enthusiast will not be disauded, no matter how well versed in the subjet matter their opponents.

As for "responsible nanotechnology." Nature has already crated her own version of "grey goo" which we would be hard pressed to copy. That is the simple bacteria. While the cover the Earth, we are in no more danger of them starting to grow out of control and devowering all our resources then we are the nano-technologists every getting machine-phase matter working.

Re:Richard Smally V. Eric Drexler (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 8 years ago | (#14661105)

I think that the engineers and computer scientists are all too aware of what happens at the scale of atoms.

It's all about control of the energies and positions involved. Physcial catalysts such and quantum dots show that they encourage certain reactions with no need for a solvent. Why because they have an effect on the energies and the positions of the reactants.

Constructing molecules with and without a solvent is similar to flying a craft in air and in space. Both systems allow you to do things that the others don't. Chemistry involving solvents is still the easiest option but other techniques are changing that. Chemical Vapour deposition for example requires no medium and yet can grow crystals. That however is a crude process but shows that simple control over the energies involved can achieve the same as what happens in a solvent based system.

Smalley didn't want to admit it but hitting one atom with another in the correct way will cause them to bond. He knew this but ended up invoking some extra Hyperphysical metaphor which simply does not count as an adequate scientific explanation.

I personally do not see mechanosynthesis working above a few kelvin but I may be wrong. It's all about knowledge of the system involved, chemists are not used to knowing the specific interactions between particles and then actvely using them. Physicists and physical chemists are know working from first principles upwards, seeing what happens in computer models when X atom approaches Y atom at such an angle. We have tools that allow us manipulation on the scale of the anstrom and so give us a few decades and we will have enough experience and control to reliably perform the same process again and again.

Anyway you can manipulate single atoms using suitable AFM tips, thus showing that once you know the energies involved you can overcome the 'sticky fingers' problem even in Smalleys straw man.

Re:Richard Smally V. Eric Drexler (1)

said_captain_said_wo (889009) | more than 8 years ago | (#14661487)

There are already cases where STMs have positioned individual atoms, and biological systems put together plants and animals molecule-by-molecule. Our abilities to manufacture and synthesize are increasing, whether it's from the top down (lithography) or bottoms-up (biochemistry).

Take everything we know about chemistry and add a bit of positional control. This does not of course give us the ability to arbitrarily place molecules or atoms in energetically awkward positions, but should allow us to control some reactions, using suitable reactants, in a given position.

Talking heads with *no credentials* (1)

dr. loser (238229) | more than 8 years ago | (#14662538)

This article highlights one of my pet peeves: people with no technical background in physics, chemistry, or biology who somehow become talking heads on the subject of nanoscale science that garner world-wide attention. Seriously, look at their website [crnano.org]. Explain to me what gives them professional credibility on this issue. This is as bad as Michael Crichton testifying before Congress about climate change last fall. Besides being loud and writing a novel, what actual qualifications does he have to be taken seriously?

There are plenty of actually qualified people worrying about things like the toxicology of nanomaterials, and environmental impacts of nanomaterials. Indeed, Rice University has an NSF-funded center [slashdot.org] on exactly this topic. Responsible scientific research is a good thing - assuming that unqualified people can appreciate the technical issues is not.

Pie in the sky? (1)

GWBasic (900357) | more than 8 years ago | (#14663183)

So, according to this article:
  • Nanotechnology will solve world hunger!
  • Nanotechnology will solve the energy crisis!
  • Nanotechnology will end pollution!
  • Nanotechnology will get us into space!
You are free to draw your own conclusions.

Re:Pie in the sky? (1)

susano_otter (123650) | more than 8 years ago | (#14665098)

You left out the part where nanotechnology will be cheap and easy to use, allowing developing nations to quickly leapfrog their more advanced competitors, while at the same time the big risk of nanotechnology is that only one nation will have it, and that nation will use it to become a superpower.

Maybe it's just me, but hasn't the trend throughout history been that the cheaper and easier and more accessible something is, the harder it is for a single entity to control it?

Especially given that several nations are conducting this research independently of each other, which kinda makes the whole "ein volk, ein nanotechnologie, ein reich" boogeyman obsolete to begin with, neh?
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