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More on Smalley-Drexler debate

Nobel Winner Smalley Responds to Drexler's Challenge,
Fails to Defend National Nanotech Policy

Rice University Professor Richard Smalley responds to a longstanding challenge by Foresight Chairman Eric Drexler to defend the controversial direction of U.S. policy in nanotechnology. Their four-part exchange is the cover story of the Dec. 1 2003 Chemical & Engineering News. This could mark a turning point in the development of the field.
Press release
Foresight comments and FAQ
Full text of the exchange
Technical commentary from CRN

49 Responses to “More on Smalley-Drexler debate”

  1. Morgaine Says:

    Smalley's animism in enzyme.

    As an engineer, I found the alleged point-counterpoint in C&EN entirely unhelpful in any technical sense. Some of Smalley's words were illuminating though, in a very unfortunate way:

    "You need a fairly large group of other atoms arranged in a complex, articulated, three-dimensional way to activate the substrate and bring in the reactant, and massage the two until they react in just the desired way. You need something very much like an enzyme.

    … I thought for a while that you [Drexler] really did get it, and you realized that on the end of your robotic assembler arm you need an enzymelike tool. That is why I led you in my reply into a room to talk about real chemistry with real enzymes, trying to get you to realize the limitations of this approach. Any such system will need a liquid medium."

    From the above it seems that Smalley is an animist, believing in a mystical life-force possessed only by the enzymes found in or based on nature. Apparently catalysis of complex chemistry is possible only by such magic enzymes, and everything else is impossible. He uses a pseudo-scientific debating technique to give this reasoning the trappings of logic, moving the discussion from "enzymelike tool" to "real enzymes" to "need a liquid medium" and ending up at the strawman of "synthesized with water". This is all entirely unworthy of the man as an ex-scientist, which is rather sad.

    For an optimistic microsecond I thought he might actually get down to saying why he thought that enzyme-like activation of chemical processes by structures differing from those found in nature was not possible, but no such luck.

    Don't waste any more time on this.

  2. ChrisPhoenix Says:

    A few more URLs…

    C&E News Debate URL

    CRN press release: Published Debate Shows Weakness of MNT Denial

    Kurzweil commentary: The Drexler-Smalley Debate on Molecular Assembly

    Both Kurzweil and CRN give histories of the debate. Kurzweil's commentary is the longest; it's not tightly argued but has lots of references for MNT-related scientific work. Foresight's commentary has quotes from Merkle about recent work of his, as well as from Kurzweil.

    Morgaine is right about not wasting time on Smalley's position.* But if Smalley is wrong, that tends to imply Drexler is right. If Drexler's theory is even reasonably plausible–and it's far more than that–then our national policy of refusing even to look at MNT is seriously broken.

    And it's now clear that anyone who appealed to "fat fingers" and "sticky fingers" (such as Ratner & Ratner in their recent "homeland security" book) is not trustworthy on MNT.

    * It's worth noting, though, what Smalley says about bio-nanotech: that it can't build useful products. Note that the NNI has focused on bio-nano to the exclusion of MNT. More evidence of broken policy?

    Chris

  3. Morgaine Says:

    Re:A few more URLs…

    But if Smalley is wrong, that tends to imply Drexler is right. If Drexler's theory is even reasonably plausible–and it's far more than that–then our national policy of refusing even to look at MNT is seriously broken.

    True enough. It is however merely a national policy.

  4. Mr_Farlops Says:

    Re:A few more URLs…

    As a layperson, I agree that this needs to be debated publicly. Not because I like to see scientists throw down but because this sort of thing is what the public will expect to see.

    It may be true that Smalley's position is largely without technical merit but, if it's not answered and examined, the public (and policy makers.), and their naive views on how science works, will perceive that as admission of failure. It's sort like the creationism debate. Obviously creationism has no scientific merit, but if scientists just ignore it, the naive will take that silence as an admission of the truth of creationism. To paraphrase, ignorance triumphs if the enlightened do nothing.

    Besides, speaking as the peanut gallery here, I do love it when two respected scientists (And Smalley, despite being wrong about this one, is deserved of his respect and reputation.) throw down the fearsome science!

  5. Anonymous Coward Says:

    a problem with Drexlers arguements

    he assumes a rational humanity. It seems to me that 99% of humans do not like rationality because it makes them have to change friends and stuff. Drexler wants to think that by being open, the politicians and non-scientific masses are going to vote "yes" on molecular manufacturing and "no" to a world wide ban on it. Not to single out christianity to much, but I have found quotes from at least second century "fathers" to the effect of they believe because it is non-sense. If anybody doughts me, I suppose I could go and refind those quotes again. So what you may ask, that was a long time ago right? Wrong, I remember being in an astronomy class where this one meek little girl said she didn't have to get anything more than a D in the class; her "father" told her so. Shoot, If you still dought me, I'm sure I can get a direct quote from christians on the web; i know a great place! I once again think Drexlers assumptions for a rational debate, analyses, and perhaps decision from our politians is going to come about by being open is false. Really, the militant tendencies and business competition will keep the money coming in ever faster whether we talk about it with the local churchs or not. If Drexler and his friends want to start a rational society, I'd suggest using his senior associates as an Asimovian "Foundation", where they are planning(desing ahead) both the technologies of basic survival(food, water, health, etc) and social/economic/psychological analyses of the current state of society to make our moves say to outer space when we need to, and to fight the inevitable backlashes of the anti-science majority.

  6. Anonymous Coward Says:

    same post in plain old text

    he assumes a rational humanity. It seems to me that 99% of humans do not like rationality because it makes them have to change friends and stuff.

    Drexler wants to think that by being open, the politicians and non-scientific masses are going to vote "yes" on molecular manufacturing and "no" to a world wide ban on it.

    Not to single out christianity to much, but I have found quotes from at least second century "fathers" to the effect of they believe because it is non-sense. If anybody doughts me, I suppose I could go and refind those quotes again. So what you may ask, that was a long time ago right? Wrong, I remember being in an astronomy class where this one meek little girl said she didn't have to get anything more than a D in the class; her "father" told her so. Shoot, If you still dought me, I'm sure I can get a direct quote from christians on the web; i know a great place!

    I once again think Drexlers assumptions for a rational debate, analyses, and perhaps decision from our politians is going to come about by being open is false. Really, the militant tendencies and business competition will keep the money coming in ever faster whether we talk about it with the local churchs or not.

    If Drexler and his friends want to start a rational society, I'd suggest using his senior associates as an Asimovian "Foundation", where they are planning(desing ahead) both the technologies of basic survival(food, water, health, etc) and social/economic/psychological analyses of the current state of society to make our moves say to outer space when we need to, and to fight the inevitable backlashes of the anti-science majority.

  7. RobertBradbury Says:

    Re: The pressure is building

    Its more than "seriously broken". If one looks at the number of hits on my "Protein Based Assembly of Nanoscale Parts" paper (currently offline, but probably available in the Google cache) — there were a large number coming out of Taiwan gov. sites. Some people *do* get it. The U.S. government doesn't quite get it yet — but at some point they will have to. As will the VCs and corporate CTOs.

    As Yoda might say, "Feel the force".

    Robert

  8. Anonymous Coward Says:

    you all can't tell me there's not a . . .

    strong anti-science movement in this world; every movie is about the dangers of doing ever more science; never, is there a movie like Asimov's books about the dangers of not doing more science, of going back to the middle ages; there's never movies about how the ability to do science defines the human species from the rest of the living world. I remember reading a couple of years ago about some science facility in norway that got burned down from some anti-science extremists in the Journal "Nature." In the same journal today, November 21, I read about some religious groups giving names from Johns Hopkins research facilities that they don't like to U.S. congressman. You all are terribly naive to think the rest of the world wants science that will force them to recognize their family religion is wrong.

  9. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re: The pressure is building

    as even Jacob Bronowski commented in his Ascent of Man", "why should I care if the power shifts to a different color?" He's refering to the orientals getting into science a lot more than the americans. Hey, once that supervolcano goes, so does america whether you have nanotech or not. If america doens't relocate its capital off this planet(because the rest of the world is taken; america would have to go to world war to relocate to other earthly lands which it would not successfully do), then america is finished.

  10. chip Says:

    It's not really about Smalley

    Or at least, it's not entirely about him. It's about getting the topics of mechanochemistry and molecular manufacturing put on the policy debate table in a publicly visible way. One of the tactics used by the champions of the status quo (e.g., various folks getting funding from the NNI via the ploy of relabeling their non-nanotech work as nanotechnology) to keep these things off the table (and thus keep them out of the competition for funding) is to simply act as if everyone automatically knows these are fringe ideas that don't bear attending to. A loud, publically visible debate like this raises the issue in a way that makes it harder to ignore. Casual hand waving dismissal becomes an option less available to them. People who are on the fence gain tacit permission to consider the question seriously.

  11. Anonymous Coward Says:

    the future and war

    I would like to point out that everyone has their insights, so it certainly is valuable to not go to war. But, history shows clearly that wars come about when a new technological civilization comes about, and the fact is that this new force will be a far more technological and scientific one and due to the fact that people become what they are based on their environments and industrialism created a poor majority social class; they inevitably are going to be mostly anti-science. Well, I've been ignored before when posting these things, and somehow I think that is going to be the strategy once again. Isn't it curious how Drexler gets all up when Richard Smalley tries to appease the masses, but when bringing up these religious issues, he shuts up? I like how everybody applauds Bill Joy for saying the good guys need to get the head start, but when pointing out Jacob Bronowski's principles of ethics, everybody starts talking about some naturalistic fallacy to shut up any notion of it! For what its worth I guess, I still say we need to be planning on stepping out of the way of the anti-science people as they go to war; we need to be making for an Asimivian Foundation.

  12. Kadamose Says:

    Re:you all can't tell me there's not a . . .

    Actually, the US isn't going to exist in another decade anyway, so there is no point in worrying about it. And yes, that's a very good thing.

    As far as the religious, moronic luddites are concerned, they are either going to have to 'adapt or die'. The technology is never going to go away, much less halted in any manner.

    We shall be as gods…those of us who survive, anyway.

  13. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re:A few more URLs…

    How is Smalley wrong? As far as I know, no MNT's are yet created, therefore up to this point he is correct. I find Smalley's argument much more scientifically based–Drexler seems to duck enzyme issues. Yes the vast majority of enzymes are water based, though some work in organic solvent. However, Drexler ducks the assertion that no enzymes exist (to date) that will create building materials as we know them (e.g. semiconductors, metal nanoparticles, or even nanotubes). Drexler still has no way of synthesizing anything that is non-biologically based. I believe this to be the fundamental issue at this point and he ducks it. Victory to Smalley.

  14. pcyvcjc1 Says:

    Where is all this enzyme stuff coming from?

    From a non-technical standpoint I agree that Smalley does indeed seem to have better thought-out scientific arguaments to support his claim for the infeasibility of MNT. However, Drexler's arguament does not rest on being able – today – to produce enzymes which will build our everyday materials like steel and crystals. He simply states that enzyme-like devices – perhaps evolved from biological enzymes – will be developed in the future which do have these capabilities. These engineered, enzyme-like entities need not be constrained by the limits imposed on biological systems, such as the general necessity of having to function in solution. They will be held rigidly on mobile substrate platforms, able to move precisely in three dimensions through vacuum, and able to exert force in any required direction. Machine-phase chemistry, as envisioned by Drexler, simply does not require biology or enzymes or cells or indeed any biological systems to be workable. It only requires an understanding of, and then a development of, the nanomachines already created by evolution. The progress of MNT will be much slower than that of other "wet" nanotechnologies. Methods for adding or removing single atoms or groups molecules from a device being constructed will require millions of individual tools to be created (eg hydrogen extraction tools, carbon deposition tools). Some of these tools will have to be created every time a new product is designed so that they will function properly in the specific environment in which they are to be employed. Others may be more general, with the property of being able to be used in a range of chemical environments. No one ever said that machine-phase chemistry was going to be easy to develop. It will take many years of sustained research and development by many scientists all over the world. It will require new ways of thinking about chemistry – in terms of engineering and systems architecture. But each new tool developed will be a stepping stone to the next one. Progress begets progress. A simple set of tools will build a more complex toolbox, which will in turn develop even more complex and diverse tools… This is the path I envision to MNT. Smalley and the other naysayers are outdated in their thinking. They should make room for young and bright new scientists who have a more interdisciplinary concept of the physical world they inhabit. Chris

  15. Morgaine Says:

    Encouraging the police state?

    Well, I've been ignored before when posting these things

    [Referring to previous postings isn't really helpful without a fixed posting pseudonym. There is much truth in what you say as AC here though.]

    it certainly is valuable to not go to war. But, history shows clearly that wars come about when a new technological civilization comes about,

    There is a reason why issues like those you mention are dealt with poorly here, if at all. The ground underfoot becomes less and less solid the further away one gets from science and technology, and unfortunately, both anti-MNT and pro-MNT factions are guilty of thrashing around in that shifty swamp. While I can laugh away some of the non-logical pseudo-reasoning from people like Smalley, I cringe when I read similar sloppy reasoning and unfounded premises from people who should know better. Alas, this seems to happen almost every time that we depart from our areas of technical expertise and enter the mire of advocacy and politics.

    The simple reason why you probably feel that you are not getting satisfaction from people in Foresight etc in non-technical areas is that they cannot give it to you, because they can represent only one position without appearing disjointed and hence by design and intent they do not represent anyone with differing opinions. Alas, because pure opinion is worthless without the backing of physical facts or reviewed statistics, what we see mostly is empty handwaving on both sides of the fence.

    While I don't think that it would ever work, perhaps we could encourage those in Foresight who do more politicking than MNT modelling to strengthen their position by using statistical techniques much like softer "sciences" use to underpin their opinions and hence their policies. They could certainly start by obtaining statistical backing for their belief that the answer to perceived problems with future technology lies in the safe hands of politicians. On the face of it, such a belief indicates a complete lack of both hindsight and foresight, but I'm ready to be convinced otherwise by statistically valid evidence — NOT by opinion.

    In practice, nothing like that will happen of course, people being people. That's why I try to encourage sticking to the science and technology wherever possible, so that we can trust in mathematics and observation rather than in faith.

  16. Morgaine Says:

    Re:It's not really about Smalley

    I understand what you're saying about the side effect of Smalley retaining credence, and also the merits that would derive from undoing the present political, memetic, and funding unfairnesses. In many respects though, this is a hiding to nowhere.

    You see, this is a David and Goliath situation, and unlike the story, you simply cannot tackle the establishment head on in practice. Even without the benefit of conspiracy theories and political power-mongering and business interests clouding the picture, the establishment simply has too much inertia.

    While some may not mind repeatedly smashing their heads against that particular brick wall, and may even gain some minor concessions from NNI or its successors from doing so, ultimately winning small battles for US acceptance and funding will make little difference to the course of MNT development on a planetary scale.

    Even worse though, focussing on comparatively minor niggles like NNI funding is almost a dangerous diversion when dramatically more worrying deathstars lurk below the horizon, to borrow a term. No amount of pleading for public discussion/visibility or engineering guidelines or political control will in any way affect military R&D in nanotechnology, right across the world, so the current focus is completely misplaced.

    This is why I'm unimpressed by the importance given to Smalley, even if the outcome of his myopia is to skew funding and largely deflect any real discussion about MNT. The sad fact is, you'll never get the establishment to discuss either the items that are permanently off the agenda (military) nor the items that do not fit their worldview (anything that moves the means of production and hence control, money, and power). In these circumstances, talking to Goliath is largely a waste of time.

    Our expertise is in science and technology, and in these areas we can be both productive and caring for our planet and our futures. I have doubts that our time is better spent talking to brick walls.

  17. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re:you all can't tell me there's not a . . .

    Kadamose, I've been watching your posts here on nanodot for quite a while now. Your distopian attitudes seem to me to be misplaced on this website – it is not supposed to be used to contemplate conspiracy theories, nor to predict doom and the end of the world like some latter-day Nostradamus. Nor is its purpose to have a bash at all the "religious, moronic luddites", as you call them.

    Rather, this is supposed to be a place for the scientific and wider community to share their views in a constructive and helpful manner. Working towards building a society in which peace is possible, and all groups are protected in having their own opinions and desires. This includes protecting religious groups from people like you.

    I suggest that a change of forum would be a benefit both to you, and to all the other nanodot users, who are trying to build something beautiful, instead of tearing it down.

  18. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re:Encouraging the police state?

    please explain to me why the foresight institute contemplates things like fact forums and hypertext publishing if they are not trying to create a rational society? why of course, go ahead and state that i didn't present any facts; yea, O.K.! Your reasoning above was more smalley like than mine!

  19. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re:Encouraging the police state?

    I must mention once again, you ignore me, but listen to Bill Joy? Sure thing, yea(I just love when the bible says, "Yea!"), your reasoning is solid – not!

  20. Morgaine Says:

    Re:Encouraging the police state?

    please explain to me why the foresight institute contemplates things like fact forums and hypertext publishing if they are not trying to create a rational society? why of course, go ahead and state that i didn't present any facts; yea, O.K.! Your reasoning above was more smalley like than mine!

    Unfortunately I didn't understand or relate to any of the points made or implied in your three sentences. The second one creates a strawman, and the third one is an attack on me, so I will not respond to either of them.

    As to your first sentence, if you would like to explain further how the worm's-eye goal of convincing the US establishment of the reality of MNT relates to the epic task of creating a rational society, I would be happy to think about it.

  21. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re:Encouraging the police state?

    it is obvious as can be to me what you all are doing; i suppose it could work.

  22. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re:Encouraging the police state?

    You're an AC, so it's pointless you referring to "I" or "me", as you have made a conscious choice not to have even pseudonomic existence and not to possess a past history. Nobody can engage you in a rational dialogue spanning more than a single message-response pair. If you want more, you know what to do about it.

  23. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re:Encouraging the police state?

    I'll try to help you out a little though; don't use your real name; really, I should only be posting to you in a library terminal . . . .

  24. Morgaine Says:

    Re:a problem with Drexlers arguements

    A problem with Drexler's arguments [is that] he assumes a rational humanity.

    I think it's exceedingly unlikely that he assumes a rational humanity, nor even a well-intentioned, honest or fair one. Be realistic, no adult that has occasionally sampled the media believes in such fictions anymore. That said, it is certainly hard to detect the reasoning behind some of what we see.

    It occurs to me that this is a problem in its own right. The occasional lip service paid to open discussion isn't delivering the promised goods if people remain perplexed. There isn't even adequate information including the reasoning behind adopted policies, let alone a dialogue that might provide input to that reasoning.

  25. Morgaine Says:

    Trying to keep logical argument on course.

    Drexler still has no way of synthesizing anything that is non-biologically based. I believe this to be the fundamental issue at this point and he ducks it. Victory to Smalley.

    I'm not interested in partisan debates and victories, but I am interested in solid reasoning, from either side.

    Smalley must clearly understand that what Drexler has available today with existing technology has no bearing on what he will be able to do tomorrow with more advanced technology. If Smalley wishes to deny that Drexler will ever have that more advanced technology then he needs to show why such advanced technology would be impossible by today's understanding. It is not enough to point out that it is not available today.

    Smalley may no longer be at the peak of his career, but he's still competent enough to understand that basic logic, I believe. The fact that he has chosen not to address the obvious point, but instead argues an illogical one, suggests that he has no answer to the obvious point. In any event, it does not advance the argument.

  26. Kadamose Says:

    Re:you all can't tell me there's not a . . .

    Where is this so called constructive discussion you are referring to? Other than Robert Bradbury, there is no one else on this forum who even has a clue, technically, of what they're talking about. They're bureaucrats, who, like their predecessors, are mindless sheep. And yet you claim there is constructive discussion here…it all looks like chaos to me.

    People should heed my warnings and not simply automatically brand me as a lunatic. I'm out to save the planet and myself…I don't give a damn about countries, loyalty, and values – which is the stance everyone here should be taking, as well. But they're not – therefore, everyone else is out of place and NOT me.

  27. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re:you all can't tell me there's not a . . .

    I don't know about everybody else; i agree there are a lot of religious lunies out there, and if people on this board think Kadamose or me is luny but don't see a lot of religious lunies, then, they are either playing politically correct or they are too stuck up in their ivory towers. Well, anyways, I agree that Kadamose is a bit extreme. While I seem to find more and more crazies the longer I live, I also know plenty, well actually only a few christians who are perfectly good people. They have no clue or even suspition about the evil of their religion. It is trully amazing. These people are willing to learn calculus and find no conflict with their religion. I never have the heart to say anything about their religion. I find these people believe in their religion the way people ware various clothing styles. It's just a style that they like to dress every statement they make up in. What Kadamose doesn't understand is these people are perfectly harmless. What to many researchers don't understand is those are few and far in between. If you don't like Kadamose, your not going to like them. Those supernatural religious people that have no problem with coming into the future should not be impeaded, but those other 90% are going to fight you no matter what; you cannot convert them!

  28. molecool Says:

    Victory

    … made possible by the demonstration of fact over FUD (fear, uncertainty, and doubt – old Microsoft technique). BTW, does anyone remember this old quote:

    "Everything that can be invented has been invented."

    –Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

    Need I say more?

  29. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re:Encouraging the police state?

    "As to your first sentence, if you would like to explain further how the worm's-eye goal of convincing the US establishment of the reality of MNT relates to the epic task of creating a rational society, I would be happy to think about it" Did it ever occur to you that the reason why Smalley is reasoning the way he does is because of the same reason why you won't talk about the religion problem?

  30. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re:Victory

    yes, all this talk is probably worthless; the facts of life that we have to create ever more technologies will win out over our fear to talk about the truths of this world.

  31. RobertBradbury Says:

    Re:Trying to keep logical argument on course.

    The problem is that Drexler doesn't have to argue for a synthesis on a non-biological basis. All of the work the Smalley is doing (on nanotubes) is based on non-biological chemical synthesis. Put enough carbon atoms in together in a high temperature environment and you end up with nanotubes. It is the efficiency of this process that several dozen commercial enterprises are now trying to improve. If I can assemble a carbon nanotube via random chemical processes then why can't I assemble a Fine Motion Controller or a Neon Pump (see imm.org) via random chemical processes? If I can come up with more efficient construction methods then that is better of course. The point that Smalley tries to duck is that you only need *one*. Once you have the first molecular assembler it doesn't take long (unless you have a molecular assembler that cannot assemble more molecular assemblers) before one has lots of molecular assemblers. This is why Smalley seems stuck on the fat-fingers problem. It would seem that objecting on the basis that a molecular assembler cannot build more molecular assemblers is the only way to defend against Drexler's ideas. Of course from a biological perspective this is silly. Ribosomes (which are the biological equivalent of assemblers) are largely responsible for the assembly of the components to create more ribosomes.

    And of course Smalley doesn't bother to go into the detail that we could evolve enzymes which are perfectly capable of functioning in solutions like alcohol or even lipids. He presents no coherent argument that current biological machines must function in "water" environments. There is extensive biological evidence that enzymes can evolve to operate in both extremely acidic and alkaline environments.

    Of course Smalley may be unaware of these facts.

    Robert

  32. Morgaine Says:

    Re:Trying to keep logical argument on course.

    Of course Smalley may be unaware of these facts.

    There are quite a few possible alternative explanations, including ignorance, incompetence, selective amnesia, political expedience, senility, or even victim of blackmail (real life is sometimes stranger than fiction).

    I think political expedience is the most likely answer (NNI money for chemistry), although arguing against that is his apparent willingness to appear unprofessional in front of his colleagues by making innane comments about love and using pseudo-logic instead of the language of science. I used to be an academic in a previous life, but I'd never heard of anyone in the profession willfully making himself the object of academic ridicule before. Standing is all. Very odd.

  33. Morgaine Says:

    Re:Encouraging the police state?

    Did it ever occur to you that the reason why Smalley is reasoning the way he does is because of the same reason why you won't talk about the religion problem?

    I think you have me confused with another poster.

  34. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re:a problem with Drexlers arguements

    I was checking out "The Prisoners Dilemma," and found it interesting how the politicians of the 1950's listened to John Von Newmans reasonings; today, the conservatives have their own think-tank called the Heritage project. It is basically a political machine; it obviously isn't about the truth but how to get conservatives in office regardless of the truth. I'm getting kicked off the computer now . . . .

  35. Morgaine Says:

    Patently iffy

    "Everything that can be invented has been invented." — Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, U.S. Office of Patents, 1899.

    A relative of Smalley's?

    Ah no, his version was "Everything that can be invented must be in aqueous solution".

  36. pcyvcjc1 Says:

    Re:you all can't tell me there's not a . . .

    Conversion is not the issue. It's integration I'm looking towards. I agree that there are a great deal of religious loonies out there – mostly harmless, but a few dangerous ones too. However, those religious loonies are not posting comment on nanodot topics, so as far as I'm concerned they can be left out of the argument.

    Surely the way forward is to simply try to help those folks who are incapable of helping themselves because they have been blinded by the destructive attitudes of organised religion – at the same time as trying to do things our own way that is. These people can live alongside us. We can all live together without one group being at war with all the others. This is the future we must work towards if we are to survive.

    N.B. Bradbury isn't the only one in this forum with a technical mindset and a "clue about what they are talking about". And with a little introspection on your part, and a willingness to learn about these issues in depth, borrowing from many disciplines and using the brains you were born with to the best of your ability, preparation for MNT might just be possible.

  37. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re:you all can't tell me there's not a . . .

    I remember noticing a innocent enough looking girl in my local community school library writing to some "nanotech" messageboard yet mentioning something about Jehovah; when she got up, I was like, "hey nanogirl!" She just walked away acting all bothered. I can guarantee you they know about us and they don't really want such a future. – Although one of my posts replies to Bradbury, I was not the one saying Bradbury is the "only" one with a technical mindset- that is Kadamose. I do detect another "ananymous coward" also. I know this can be hard to keep track of – sorry!

  38. MitchellPorter Says:

    "Don't frighten the children"

    I find it telling that in his last remarks Smalley chastises Drexler for scaring "our children". And before anyone feels superior to Smalley, please think again about what "grey goo" really means, and about the merits of promoting a technology which makes something like that possible.

    At the start of the 20th century, many intellectuals were keen on strengthening the state, because then they could get rid of all the evils of the past in a burst of modernist social engineering. They generally didn't anticipate total war, the Holocaust, or totalitarianism, although in retrospect it seems obvious that unprecedented concentrations of power would lead to unprecedented abuses of power.

    Now we have a similar phenomenon, a geek avant-garde who want to achieve immortality and economic liberation for all. This time around, the political context is libertarian rather than technocratic, but once again there is an enormous and obvious blind-spot: Assemblers for all means having a weapon of mass destruction on every desktop. There are sober-minded people in bio and nano who are alive to this, but I think there's also a great deal of denial. The 20th century can teach us the consequences of that.

  39. Morgaine Says:

    Re:"Don't frighten the children"

    I find it telling that in his last remarks Smalley chastises Drexler for scaring "our children". And before anyone feels superior to Smalley, please think again about what "grey goo" really means, and about the merits of promoting a technology which makes something like that possible.

    I'm assuming that the problem here is the alleged grey goo, as opposed to the scaring of children. We are definitely at fault for having raised this spectre when it simply doesn't stand up to analysis under any of the structural and operational models that have been proposed for the technology. The rational response to this mistake is for both sides to accept that it was made, and then to remove it from further discourse.

    Referring to your other two paragraphs, you highlight a good point, but isn't the logic of the situation exactly the reverse? Aren't those who are resisting a discourse about nanotechnology in denial of it? While I think Foresight may not be focussing their energies to best effect, they are at least trying very openly to combat denial in the establishment. One has to grant them that.

  40. molecool Says:

    Re:Patently iffy

    LOL – good one. I make sure to send Smalley a snorkel for Christmas ;-) BTW, there's a discussion on /. – check it out.

  41. rpiquepa Says:

    Are 'Molecular Assemblers' Possible?

    More people than you think are interested by nanotechnology. I commented today on my blog on the debate between K. Eric Drexler and Richard E. Smalley. My summary was picked by Slashdot. So far, there are 375 comments — some of them are very valuable — and more than 6,000 people looked at my overview. And as I said in conclusion: Drexler thinks "molecular assemblers" are possible while Smalley denies it. Who is right? Don't count on me to give an answer.

  42. MitchellPorter Says:

    Re:"Don't frighten the children"

    We are definitely at fault for having raised this spectre when it simply doesn't stand up to analysis

    Are you talking about replication through "mechanosynthesis", specifically? If so, have you ever read Ralph Merkle's "hydrocarbon assembler" paper? We will be very lucky if free-living mechanosynthetic aerovores simply turn out to be thermodynamically impossible.

    Foresight … are at least trying very openly to combat denial in the establishment

    I see two kinds of nano-boosterism that ignore or downplay the WMD issue. One is radical posthuman utopianism. There are far more nanofans than nanoengineers in that category. Then there's what you might call "promoters of the nanoindustrial revolution".

    I conclude two things from the power and inevitability of nanotechnology. One is, not just that the state will develop it, but that the state will attempt to control it. Pleas that "development is being stifled" will have no public sympathy, if the long-range alternative is to turn every virus writer into a potential Saddam Hussein. The other is that we are going to end up living in hermetically sealed environments, because the "wild" – that is, the natural environment in which we evolved, where we eat and breathe right now – will become contaminated with hostile artificial life.

  43. Morgaine Says:

    Re:"Don't frighten the children"

    You could well be right about long-term dangers, even if there are no short-term ones, but if something's going to happen then I don't panic or go into denial about it. If there's a forseeable problem, we need to plan ahead to avoid it.

    I've always been a realist — it probably stems from being a professional engineer, because you can't make things work on the basis of wishful thinking. But realism cuts both ways, so when I am convinced by an argument that is supported by the best scientific analysis currently available, and when that argument has withstood scientific scrutiny for well over a decade, I have to accept everything implied by that argument, even if it leads well outside what seems normal in everyday experience.

    And this is where it leads: MNT will be developed in due course, regardless of any attempts at control, even in the presence of a global police state designed to prevent it. Given that fairly safe prediction (it's safe because I give no timescales), are we going to stand around and do nothing? That would be callous in the extreme, it seems to me. I love my friends, my home and my planet, and if defense against an environment that will inevitably become hostile is needed to keep us alive then I won't shrink from the effort just because I don't like hermetically sealed environments (if that's what it takes).

    So, to advocates and detractors alike, I think I'd say somelike like, we need less wishful thinking and more constructive realism. The future will be different.

  44. pcm Says:

    Smalley scares children too?

    Suppose Smalley were right about water being something like a vital force needed for enzyme-like activity. What fears would that allay?
    Does that mean self-replicating nanobots could
    only produce things such as anthrax and smallpox,
    but not nuclear bombs?

  45. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re:Smalley's animism in enzyme.

    From the above it seems that Smalley is an animist, believing in a mystical life-force possessed only by the enzymes found in or based on nature. Apparently catalysis of complex chemistry is possible only by such magic enzymes, and everything else is impossible.

    I don't think this is the deduction to be made. What has to be understood is that cellular elements aren't sentient or deliberate in their actions like you would expect a machine. Life processes work out because of the sheer number of elements and the combined probability that a macroscopic homeostasis will be achieved. If you are working with a single or few nanomachines, there's no guaranteed way to "control" them to carry out your mechanics. At least not with our current technologies.

  46. RobertBradbury Says:

    Re:Smalley scares children too?

    Self-replicating nanobots (known as bacteria) already produce anthrax and non-self-replicating nanosystems (known as viruses) produce smallpox and other poxes when host cells are available. So Smalley's dislike of nanobots is specious.

    Should we have not talked about the SARS virus because it would have scared the children? Talking about it allowed its rapid isolation, the production of the complete genome sequence, a fairly good understanding of its possible sources and the determination of the receptor that it binds to for entry into cells (so we can test drugs that may block that process [some of which we already have at our disposal]). And that was all within a few months. Would it have been better that we stick our heads in the sand and hope the problem will go away?

    With respect to nuclear bombs? Certainly one could send out nanorobots to isolate uranium and bring it back. And one could construct other nanorobots that could isolate the required isotopes. After that the construction of nuclear bombs is to a large extent a macroscale process and nanorobots are not required. However the design and construction of such programmed nanorobots would be a sophisticated process and for many many years something only the top few countries in the world in MNT would be able to attempt if they really wanted to. Those countries already generally have the means to produce nuclear bombs (with the possible exceptions of Germany, Japan and Taiwan). Since many already have a significant excess supply of the materials required (e.g. both the U.S. and Russia have many tons of excess raw materials from dismantling cold war weapons) it would seem to be a rather pointless exercise to design and build such nanorobots.

  47. Morgaine Says:

    Fear of the future and not-invented-here?

    The more I look at this, the more it seems to me that Smalley's problem is a mixture of fear of the future and not-invented-here syndromes, nothing more, for the following reason.

    One has to assume that he's capable of tackling any of the technical material in Nanosystems head on if he so wishes, so why doesn't he? If he's not capable of it because it's a little bit outside of his main area, then he could give the task of finding technical objections to a classful of undergrads as an exercise, or to a grad team that would find it easy going.

    On the face of it, the straightforward explanation for a total lack of precise, focussed technical counterarguments has to be that detractors have tried to find them but without success (so far). I'm not so sure that that's what's been happening here though, because no technical work is ever totally free of errors.

    Fear of the future and not-invented-here are very powerful forces, and it could well be that they have denied Smalley the opportunity of putting on his scientist cap and actually addressing the specifics that Nanosystems has held up for public review for so long. That would certainly explain why Smalley-the-scientist just doesn't want to put in an appearance.

  48. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Time Machine

    In the final installation from Rick Smalley to Eric Drexler, "You and people around you have scared our children… there will be no such monster as the self-replicating mechanical nanobot of your dreams." Let's rewind and take a time machine a few thousand yrs back and tell our the astronomers that "You and people around you have scared our children… there will be no such beings and objects of your dreams – outside Earth". This is a typical vision-limited argument!

  49. Anonymous Coward Says:

    Re:Encouraging the police state?

    America is a Police State. Cops lie and steal every day . Because cops lie, you can be arrested at any time for any reason. Americas police state is only to protect the wealthy power elite. Why do they become cops? It has been stated in numerous papers that it is a control issue with the cops in general. That they can not control their own lives, so they want to control yours. It is a power trip for them, plain and simple! And you hear from the cops that they wish to serve the public! Please! These people have no form of formal real intelligence. If they did, why would they want to be radio dispatched to complete strangers and for 28 to 32 K a year. Cops are the D students you went to high school with, most where bullies or where bullied. Then you have the problem that the cops lie each and every day to make it seem their job is worse than it really is! Ever been charged with any thing? Cops know most citizens fear and hate them. They love the fear they cause. It is also a fact that 80% of all Police Officers have homosexual tendencies they compensate for. You almost most feel sorry for them. As long as we have weak minded people with feelings of inadequacy, we will have plenty of cops.

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