Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Carla wants to know

In response to a question posed by one of my oldest and most perceptive friends, I posted what follows to my Facebook profile.

Her question was posed after watching this video

"Rocky, am I really ignorant and paranoid?

It seems like this technology holds they key to either really, really good stuff for us as a species, or it has the potential for really really bad stuff.

I trust the science and the scientists. I don't trust the Money that controls what's done with the science.

Einstein was a really nice guy. He had no idea his science would be used for war. I don't think any of the Manhattan Project scientists went into it knowing what they were unleashing on the world."

~ Carla Conrad

My answer: A most perspicacious observation, and right on the mark. Occam’s Razor, 21st century style, meaning that you have hit upon the simplest explanation for the potential outcome; like every technological innovation in the past, nanoscale technologies have both the potential for tremendous good and/or tremendous bad. And don’t let my seemingly cavalier use of "tremendous" lull you into a false sense of security; I mean "tremendous" as in "things that have the potential to change everything we think we know about ourselves, while enabling each of us with the power to effect and experience our surroundings in ways heretofore only imagined."

I have been actively and intensely following nanoscale technologies since the early ‘90’s. At the end of the day, my most prescient observation would be that these technologies will have an impact on our global society many times greater than ALL past technological revolutions. Let me put it another way: nanoscale technologies - and the products thereof - will enable far greater change than our discovery, development and use of fire, bronze, iron, steel, electrical power, cars, planes and space travel put together.

Any person, institution or government entity that says "Oh yeah, nanotechnology, we got that handled" is lying their ass off. Equally, any person, institution or government entity that says "Oh yeah, nanotechnology, it’s gonna kill us all in one or more horrible ways" is also lying their ass off. Anyone that fervent usually has a hidden agenda, and one which serves a higher master. You’ll notice I said "usually" – many of my colleagues in the nanospace are humanitarians in the best sense and are talking about and planning for ways in which the good things can be emphasized and the bad minimized or eliminated.

My philosophy is summed up thus:

Nanotechnology will certainly play a pivotal role in our future; now, with the introduction of lighter/stronger materials in the auto, space, and military industries, and later, with the introduction of molecular manufacturing (making items per your specifications, in your own home, for pennies on the dollar of current prices – think "replicator" and you will not be too far off).

Expect to see revolutionary changes in solar, fuel cell and hydrogen storage technologies within the next few years. And expect to see a great deal of interest in and subsequent higher funding of nanotech-enabled sensor technologies for military, homeland security and civilian applications within the next few years. Put another (albeit obvious) way: expect to see cultural tsunamis of a magnitude that rival anything we have thus far experienced.

No informed person doubts that developments at the nanoscale will be significant. We debate the time frame, the magnitude and the possibilities, but not the likelihood for large-scale change. The least-speculative views suggest that we're in for changes of an order that justifies – if not demands – our undivided attention. Will we be ready? (BTW: not kidding, not even the weensiest amount)

OK, off my high horse and back to your previously programmed station…