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Nanotech: Pro-Progress vs Pro-Caution debate rages on

Ronald Bailey of Reason Magazine offers a nanotech pro-progress essay: "As for unintended consequences, someday something will go wrong with nanotechnology, as it has with electricity, cars, and computers. But we shouldnít deny ourselves the benefits of a new technology just because we cannot foresee every consequence. We should proceed by trial and error and ameliorate problems as they arise. Thatís how the dramatic progress humanity has seen during the last two centuries was accomplished. If an ICENT [International Convention for the Evaluation of New Technologies] had existed in the 19th century, we probably would still be riding horses, using candles for lighting, cooking on wood stoves, and gulping whiskey for anesthesia."

4 Responses to “Nanotech: Pro-Progress vs Pro-Caution debate rages on”

  1. Morgaine Says:

    2004 … Time to promote progress at last?

    It's no surprise at all that Mooney's group and Greenpeace have picked up on the ever-present calls to examine possible harmful effects of nanoscale technologies. The first years of this new millennium have seen almost total domination by the fear, concern and doubt approach, used by both anti-MNT and pro-MNT organizations alike for trying to attract the attentions of government. Government has of course ignored all of this since the politico-business machine sees immense profits at the nanoscale, but other lobbies have been happy to pick up on all that negative propaganda.

    How about a change of tactic for the new year from the pro-MNT organizations at least? Or is it going to require more kicks in the teeth before everyone realizes that the previous strategy was ill-founded, double-edged, myopic in its US-centrism, and very akin to chatting with a Ludditic dollar-hungry devil. There is no huge financial gain in looking beyond the money-earning part of the progress curve, and regardless of the message that is sent, the message that the politico-business symbiant receives is "Here is something that could increase our profit and power."

    Let's make 2004 a year of promoting the benefits of early and mid-term MNT, attracting attention on the basis of its expected advantages to a world full of poverty and disease, not its possible disadvantages — professional engineers will tackle the latter anyway, needing just information not PR. The negative strategy of recent years suggests that people never attended PR 101 and so play directly into the hands of detractors, which would be funny if it weren't wasting our precious human resources.

    The anti-MNT brigade is far ahead in this battle of memes, largely due to the fact that MNT advocates have focussed so strongly on the negatives. But there is worse. Anti-MNT lobbies are sensibly global, while the alleged "pro-MNT" PR has been completely US-centric. This is going to take a lot of work to fix.

    Let's make 2004 a year of MNT positivism, with a planetary focus.

  2. RobertBradbury Says:

    When progress isn't progress…

    Ron I'm not sure your points are the best examples. I don't know about gulping whiskey for anesthesia but if we were stuck with Sambuca, Ouzo or better yet Raki I'd probably prefer it to modern anesthetic methods :-)

  3. Morgaine Says:

    Re:When progress isn't progress…

    That sparked off a very odd train of thought in me. It started with an innocuous mild exclamatory "Ugh, spirits" and then that turned into a pleasant mental meander about wines, at which point I realized that I was still looking at Nanodot … Oh! So what does MNT hold in store for a wine lover? In the next nanosecond this turned into an internal question about sensations in general, and then about perceptions in general, and then about value judgements reflecting on acquired preferences based upon subjective perceptions derived from personal sensations.

    At which point I remembered that one should never try to compare apples with orangutans, nor measure progress along a dimension where we have no scalar continuum. MNT may help keep vines and wines from suffering some of their occasional natural calamities, and who knows, it may one day replace a vineyard by something resembling a microwave oven, but it won't deliver "progress" in the taste of wines, simply because that would be dimensionally nonsensical.

    Have a pleasant tipple over the next few days, those of you who indulge. :-)

  4. Daniel Says:

    Sounds a bit Metal Gear to me

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