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Wanted: Independent nano watchdog

HLovy writes "
The Edmonton Journal asks: Will nanoscience repeat ag-biotech fiasco? The story is a rehash of all the issues NanoBot readers have been familiar with for more than a year now. But it gives me a good excuse to go into part of the "tough love" advice I gave to the Foresight Institute during my presentation last weekend.

If the group wants to remain relevant, it needs to address concerns associated with nanotechnology today, and not only this vague "someday" when true molecular manufacturing is in use.

Full commentary on Howard Lovy's NanoBot."

6 Responses to “Wanted: Independent nano watchdog”

  1. HLovy Says:

    Wanted: Independent nano watchdog – Part II

    And a convenient illustration here: http://nanobot.blogspot.com/2004/10/wanted-indepen dent-nano-watchdog-part.html Howard

  2. RobertBradbury Says:

    What ag-biotech fiasco?

    Ah, but Howard, is there really an ag-biotech fiasco or is it something that has been invented by journalists, environmentalists and European farmers addicted to government subsidies?

    A significant fraction of crops grown in the U.S. are genetically engineered. I visited a college in *Trinidad* over a decade ago where they were engineering an important agricultural crop to be genetically resistant to a pest which caused significant crop losses. I've seen a PBS special on how African farmers, I believe in Kenya, are engineering some of their main food crops for higher yields. And you can't tell me that the Chinese or Indians are going to raise significant objections to bioengineered crops which have higher yields.

    I would assert that there is *no* ag-biotech fiasco other than that which has been manufactured by people who have an interest in doing so.

    Who ever heard of the "ETC Group" before nanotechnology became the latest "boogie man" to complain about?

    I would love to know if Pat Mooney has read Nanomedicine V. IIA: Biocompatibility . If he hasn't then how on earth can he be considered an authoritative source? (Similar questions could be asked of Smalley & Whitesides with respect to whether they have even read Nanosystems.)

    Taken right from the ETC Goup's web site:

    "ETC group is dedicated to the conservation and sustainable advancement of cultural and ecological diversity and human rights."

    Do they not get it? If biotechnology and nanotechnology make human survival and growth more efficient (creating a lighter footprint on the planet) then isn't that going to contribute to conservation, species preservation, free up humans to be more creative and have more basic rights, etc.? Having humans seed the planet with expressions of their creativity (hey I like mice that glow in the dark…) is going to increase diversity. One of the major reasons I got involved in biotech was because I want a pet dragon. Yes, dogs are nice, and now that we have the genome sequence they are probably going to become much more interesting as people fiddle around with it. But a pet dragon — you can't beat that — especially on Halloween.

  3. HLovy Says:

    Re:What ag-biotech fiasco?

    Robert,

    "I would assert that there is *no* ag-biotech fiasco other than that which has been manufactured by people who have an interest in doing so."

    I think you just explained everything right there. One point that I've been trying to hammer home on my blog, in my talk to Foresight, in my rantings to the trees, to anybody who would listen, is that when it comes to public policy and science, it really does not matter what the facts are. Just take a look at how the idea of molecular manufacturing = scifi fantasy has caught on.

    So, you can scream until you're blue in the face that there is no ag-biotech fiasco, but the daily headlines on nanotechnology, the new focus of anti biotech groups, proposed regulations in Europe all tell me otherwise.

    So, yes, it's been manufactured, and manufactured successfully. Therefore, the "fiasco" exists.

    And my question, again, is what will Foresight do to use this attention being paid to nanotech (yes, not the nanotech that Foresight has been talking about, but the nanotech that's in the public eye right now) to get the sides talking to one another while drawing attention to its own evil master plan of world domination through the building of an assembler (Oops. Was I not supposed to say that in public?)

    Howard

  4. Metzen Says:

    Re:What ag-biotech fiasco?

    So are companies engineering seeds that only grow for one year or not? The premise being that if we aren't careful, we'll eventually have to buy seeds from XYZ Corp once a year, forever, making seeds a consumable.

    This may seem unlikely in the US, but you look at countries where genetically modified corn, etc, are being brought in en masse, and there is a real potential.

    I have my own garden, but buy new seeds every year. If the seeds just happened to be GM seeds one year, I would be powerless to do anything against it.

    The trend of big companies owner more and more of the everyday IP in the world (up to and including the bulk of the human genome!!!) is a scary proposition to me.

    So it is real, or imagined?

  5. RobertBradbury Says:

    Re:What ag-biotech fiasco?

    Reasonable points. So what we are dealing with is "sound and fury signifying nothing" (hmmm… sounds like "shock and awe" and they still let 340+ tons of explosives slip away under their noses… but I digress.)

    But I have tried to raise a counterpoint to this with my Sapphire Mansions paper. Humans have evolved around the concepts of survival which in turn relates to scarcity. In a real nanotech enabled world scarcity goes away and survival isn't a problem (unless one enjoys participating in "stupid human tricks"). What kind of nut-case would blow themselves up in a suicide bomb attack if they could instead be lounging beside their own swimming pool? So the perspective of "evil master plan of world domination…" becomes completely irrelevant. (Particularly since if there *were* someone "dominating" the world people would just migrate elsewhere if they didn't like it.)

    You should not assume that having an assembler is the trip wire. I've been pointing out for some time that it is the *designs* that are going to be the problem. We literally have to "recreate" nature and extend it. That is *not* going to be something that happens quickly or comes cheap.

    As Eric points out in Nanosystems, pg 264, the number of possible nanostructures that can be constructed using even a very limited set of elements in a volume of 1 nm3 is on the order of 10148. There is no way that phase space is going to be explored quickly or easily. It took billions of years for "nature" to design the protein structure phase space and that is a highly limited subset of possible physical phase spaces. We are rapidly taking the protein structure phase space apart (and the DNA and RNA structure phase spaces) but these are tips on the iceberg of what is potentially possible.

    So, IMO, what is required is for the press, and Foresight, and people they can educate, to beat into people's heads the concepts of "this is going to be very hard", "we can however get there", and "we will change the nature of humanity in the process". The last because we will change the nature of our species from one driven by the needs of survival to one driven by the needs to alter the laws of physics in our universe or create a universe which has laws of our own design. [And yes, I know I'm really stretching here...]

    So the "world domination through an assembler" idea should be squashed up front. If you don't have the designs the assembler does you little good. Then you have to deal with the fact that you would have to "imprison" the planet. That seems rather unlikely particularly given the recent progress related to the X-prize.

    So it sounds to me as if there is ample material for people to point out how poorly thought out any doomsday scenarios (based on run-away or managed nanotechnology) may be….

  6. RobertBradbury Says:

    Re:What ag-biotech fiasco?

    I believe the technology exists to produce crops which are sterile (so one must always purchase new seeds) [Google on "Monsanto terminator seeds"]. I do not believe these are being actively sold because of the bad press they were subjected to early in the early days of ag-biotech development — but I am not sure about this.

    In any case any patents on such technology have a limited lifespan (~20 years) afterwhich the technology becomes public domain. So unless you see attempts to modify patent law similar to those that have recently been enacted with respect to copyright law (which tends towards allowing indefinite extensions of copyrights) then "inventions" in the patent/drug/crop/genome area can be viewed as having a limited proprietary lifespan.)

    Ultimately people will have a choice as to whether they buy plants/crops that can reproduce or whether they want the advantages of those crops that are engineered with some significant benefit but also such that they cannot reproduce. Presumably this gets factored into the price of the seeds (I would expect non-reproducing seeds to sell at a discount relative to reproducing seeds unless the engineered "benefit" has a really high payout).

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