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Radically Inept
Monday, October 11, 2004
  So, Nanotech without the nanotech?

For those that have been following the nanotech debate between Smalley and Drexler, well, it looks like Smally is winning:
The second blow to Drexler came only two days later, when President Bush signed the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act, allocating $3.7 billion for molecular-scale R&D. In the months leading up to the signing, the bill had promised to catapult Drexler's agenda to the forefront of the nation's scientific priorities. But in the end, no money was earmarked for molecular manufacturing. Instead, the funds were largely allocated to projects using variations on conventional chemistry to develop novel materials "with new combinations of characteristics, such as, but not limited to, strength, toughness, density, conductivity, flame resistance, and membrane separation characteristics."
But than, as is so often the case, political decisions are not nessecarily based on the best science. As the article points out:
What turned the tide on Capitol Hill? Drexler's ideas had always been outlandish and his political skills underdeveloped. That combination became an Achilles' heel as opposition emerged from two quarters. First, a group called the NanoBusiness Alliance entered the fray. Formed in October 2001, the alliance wasn't interested in anything as starry-eyed or scary as self-replicating molecular assemblers; it wanted to sell newfangled products like "nanotech" suntan lotion, ski wax, and paint. One of the founders, venture capitalist F. Mark Modzelewski, was a notorious opponent of Drexlerian notions; in a later email exchange with blogger and nanotech booster Glenn Reynolds, he likened Drexler's theories to "a wino's claims on skid row that bugs are crawling under his skin."

Meanwhile, support for Drexler's ideas softened elsewhere in Washington. The White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy worried that fears whipped up by the likes of Crichton and Joy would turn the public against nanotech, just as similar scares had fueled opposition to GM foods and nuclear power. As New Hampshire's John Sununu remarked on the Senate floor, "some people have expressed concern that nanotechnology will lead to a superrace of humans or a situation where nanomachines attack or even dominate human beings."

Molecular manufacturing is a "loaded term," a Senate staffer says. "It upsets a lot of people."

The sponsors of the House bill were more interested in making sure it got through the Senate than they were in preserving funding for Drexler's ideas. Thus, when House and Senate staff members met to discuss their respective bills, they scuttled the molecular manufacturing study. In the Senate version, Arizona's John McCain introduced an "amendment in the nature of a substitute" in which the provision no longer appeared.

The watered-down bill was passed by the unanimous consent of the Senate on November 18 and signed into law by Bush on December 3. During the ceremony, Richard Smalley stood at the president's side.
Fear has a lot of political clout, and politicians don't mind business people usurping a term to sell more products. Integrity has never stood in the way of funding and legislation.

The interesting thing here, is that in all likelihood nanotechnology, including the self-assembler concept will be developed - just not out in public. I pretty damn sure that DoD is not going to back away from the concept, especially when people like the President of India:
"Triad of Nano-Bio-Info Technologies

I would like to introduce you to a future technology called Nanotechnology. We believe Nanotechnology is such a new technology that is knocking at the doors. It has wider applications compared to information technology and is likely to touch the common man. It will be the central focus for many technologies to converge and open a large number of applications. The essence of Nanotechnology is the ability to work at the molecular level to create structures with fundamentally new molecular organizations. Potential benefits of Nanotechnology are all pervasive covering fields such as materials and manufacturing, NanoElectronics, computer technology, medicine and healthcare, environment and energy, aeronautics and space, biotechnology and agriculture. We are today at the convergence of Nano, Bio and Information technologies. The world market in 2004 for Nanomaterials, Nano tools, Nano devices and Nano biotechnology put together is expected to be over hundred billion dollars. It has been noticed that the fastest growing area among these is nanobiotechnology, predominantly for the civilian sector.

Carbon Nano tubes and its composites will give rise to super strong, smart and intelligent structures in the field of material science. Molecular switches and circuits along with Nano cell will pave the way for the next generation computers. Ultra dense computer memory coupled with excellent electrical performance will give the society low power, low cost, Nano size and yet faster assemblies. The Nano-computers will find many applications.

Nano technology will influence the strategic sector with Nano satellites, stealth structures, micro & Nano vehicles, smart clothes & shoes and gadgets, Nano electronics, Nano computers, Nano actuators, Nano robots, new type of explosives and sensors for land, sea, air and space systems, revolutionising the total concept of future warfare.
Comes right out and calls on Indian scientists pursue military advantage via nanotech. [Quick rant: Of course, the Indians have the advantage in that their culture looks up to the educated, provides them with prestige, the best paying jobs, etc. Whereas in our culture the educated are considered pin-heads, eggheads, nerds etc. Is there any wonder that we can't produce enough scientists? We don't value them, why would a kid want to be one? Much better to take steriods and play pro sports and be rich and admired, than to learn science and hope there will be a job when you're done.]

Anyway, the US will continue to pursue nanotechnology, and all of the dangerous stuff, we'll just do it behind closed doors, out of public view, and without oversight. The true, traditional American way. And once we have weaponized the science, we will waste time and money in a futile attempt to try resticting access to the knowlegde, and I predict we will be as successful as we have been with nuclear science - not very, in fact, given the rate of proliferation, you could almost say: not at all.

In my view, when scientists fight about what is possible, the ones that say something is impossible are almost always wrong. It may take a little time to prove them wrong, but pretty much, the "can't do it group" can't be right. If we can imagine it, we can do it. Or somebody else will... 
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