Where's the Flying Car (airman) Sun 15 Jun 03 10:37
The paradox of nanotechnology is that no matter what you think of Drexler, he and his organizations are a required stop on the learning curve of nanotechnology. Proceed cautiously. As to nanotechnology itself we are on the leading edges of a wave that will have far reaching effects. In terms of where we are at versus the computer chips, it would be the late 50s or early 60s, somewhere between the transistor and the integrated chips. Note that most computers these days have millions of transistors. However, because of computers, combinatorial chemistry and some other wonderful tools, nanotechnology will have a sudden impact taking years instead of decades to mature. Molecular modeling software improves annually. Over the past ten years the biggest champion of nanotechnology has been Drexler. He has created such an interest that almost any scientific or engineering project has to at least acknowledge potential nanotechnology implications. What he has done is tap into the technical pool of talent of the computer revolution, the information age and biotechnology to inspire them to at least take a look at nanotechnology. Now there is a huge pool of talent waiting for specific breakthroughs to either write about it or build it, whatever it may be. The difference between the computer revolution and the nanotech revolution is that nanotechnology has at least 1000 times the talent pool with all sorts of individuals and companies who can put their own money into a project. Bill, you would know better than I. How many companies do you estimate are pure nanotechnology plays. And how many companies have projects that involve nanotechnology?
William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 16 Jun 03 10:13
Betsy, you're right in every point. The book's main aim is to let the public distinguish between real and imaginary nanotech. As this (to my knowledge) is the first time this distinction has been made in a mass-circ book, I had to do it forcefully from the get-go. Nanocosm does engage in speculation. But it is (1) In the near future; (2) Based on the latest existing work, e.g. molecular catalysis; (3) Given as a guideline to current understanding and investment; and (4) Set out explicitly as speculation, not The Way Things Are. I've taken on an immense task to do this as a science writer.I sweat to render scientific concepts in clear standard English, but absolute accuracy generally requires math. Any nonnumerate rendering ipso facto falls short of total truth. In moving from mathematics into literacy, I leave myself open to approbation or critique at every turn. This is why Nanocosm is a love-it-or-hate-it book. CAs are not like that! thunders Mr Phoenix, who has presumably never taken pity on the lay person encountering the subject for the first time. Such readers need vast simplification, e.g. restricting the universe of discourse to single-dimentional static CA systems without a pre-existent Cartesian grid of cells on an infinite plane. No, my text hasn't the elegance of advanced CA math. But as an initial encounter, I stand by it. In this I have the support of many of my readers, ie. the laity. In many of his objections, eg. white matter / grey matter, Mr Phoenix would be better not pretending to omniscience. These data are directly taken from interviews with world experts, eg. Dr Roger Fouts. Further, nearly every interview in the book was checked word for word with the interviewee. Most accusations of wrong technology in Nanocosm come from those with an axe to grind, ie. that I question Drexler's place in the nanotech pantheon. I repeat: I have to establish a clear demarcation between fact and speculation. Drexler has, for example, yet to prove that individual atoms can be placed to angstrom accuracy by any means, let alone in microseconds by means of a self-directed nanoassembler, and particularly when covalent bonds are involved. If I'm wrong in such statements, then so is Rick Smalley. And if we're into argumenta ad homines, I'm placing my bets with the Nobel laureate and genuine nanoscientist rather than the spinner of elegant, unproven speculations. Drexler deserves credit for popularizing nanotech: this I explicitly grant him at the outset of the book. But the time has come for nanotech to move out of the world of what-if and nice-someday, into the world of actual science and engineering. Drexler seems rather like Trotsky: a leader of early revolution, whom the later revolution is in process of exiling. Of course neither he nor his fellow Trotskyites will go quietly. Finally, Betsy, I share your fears about the otherness of the nanocosm, and the unknown nature of the technology that we will ultimately develop to manipulate it. I tried to make this clear at the very end of the book. Disastrous events, when and and if they arrive, won't be of the grey-goo variety. They'll come out of left field in a way that no one, least of all the experts, could have predicted. I'm reminded of the Chinese dual ideogram for crisis: danger/opportunity. Both elements are there. I hope we'll gain the opportunity without encountering more danger than we can handle.
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Mon 16 Jun 03 10:31
William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 16 Jun 03 19:59
William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Tue 17 Jun 03 11:00
Hi all, and especially Erin! This was E-mailed today to kurzweilAI in response to their review - -------------------------------------------------------------------- Dear Mr Phoenix: A brief response to the on-line review of Nanocosm. Most of the review's objections can be put to rest by my interviewees. Anatomical and functional distinctions between grey and white brain tissue are those of Roger Fouts of The Chimpanzee and Human Communication Institute, Central Washington University; laser spectroscopist Geraldine Kenney-Wallace has documented how chemical reactions commonly occur in a few tens of femtoseconds; etc. Of course conventional thermodynamic calculations forbid a Maxwell demon; my suggestion is tongue-in-cheek. Yet consider that if CERN characterizes the Higgs boson by 2005, resultant innovations such as synthetic gravity might also violate current theory. New data invariably encapsulate old theory as a special case. I fully defend all observations and conclusions about Eric Drexler. Science demands skepticism about anything imagined yet unproduced. One could argue details forever, but two facts seem incontrovertible. First: If all objections are answered, where is the device? If A then B: Not-A: Therefore not-B. Second: Mr Drexler himself is on record that nanotechnology has been empirically redefined, and must now be considered separate from the molecular assembler (New Scientist, 2003 April). From molecular switches to metallic ceramics and fullerene structures, from parallel failure-tolerant nanoarchitectronics to the renascence of analogue, real nanoscience is rapidly producing tangible, bankable results. Mixing up such genuine work with unproven speculation, no matter how fascinating, does no one any service. Sincerely William Illsey Atkinson
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Fri 20 Jun 03 05:26
The mixup of genuine work with unproven speculation is something I've seen in a lot of "futurist" work. I have some friends who are "Extropians" and they believe that we are moving towards being "Transhuman" - that we will conquer death, upload ourselves into computers and so on. Most have plans to go into cryogenic storage at the end of their lives - or "this" life. But there's a huge gap between where we are now and where we might be someday. Personally I think we have the farthest to go in social evolution....
Where's the Flying Car (airman) Fri 20 Jun 03 08:08
From George Bernard Shaw... A reasonable man adapts himself to suit his environment. An unreasonable man persists in attempting to adapt his environment to suit himself. Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man. In my experience I have found both approaches as defined by Shaw to be of interest. That holds true to the self-proclaimed purists who loathe mixing uproven speculation with true science, and for the self- proclaimed pathfinders to the future especially the fountain-of-youth club. However, the interest is in the process, not the end, since even science greatest discoveries often occured unintentionally. Luckily, there was someone observing carefully what was going on and pursued that direction. The process of building a bridge between now and a future technology is where the action is since putting all the pieces together requires putting a lot of processes together as well as putting alot of people together. The right place and time may also be needed. But those are just the ingredients, the recipe for developing a new technology. What is really needed is a bit of luck, divine intervention, or interference by nature. In the last century we saw life expectancies rise from around 30 years of age to 75 plus even in places like China. THis century may being another doubling to 150 years for those who survive what lies ahead. Is the unproven technology science fiction of perhaps the next century? I don't know. But I want to see how someone proposes getting from here to there for therein lies interesting processes, and perhaps a product with a profitable niche. And who knows what we may stumble across while searching. Over the past 35 years Star Trek has led us in numerous journeys using all sorts of speculative technology. NASA finally broke down in the 1990s recoginzing with the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics program that othe forms of propulsion may be feasible. More importantly, they looked at the pieces and processes required to bridge the gap from what we have to what it might take to build a new technological device. Keep in mind that much of science was once science fiction. Here is the fertile ground where dreamers become visionaries. And when the visionary is properly trained they become engineers, scientists and even futurists. In the end they are all bridge builders attempting to bring the future to the present. Some folks are upset at seeing the other side, some may be frightened by the river, but in the end they will all work together to build the bridge whether it be the Golden Gate Bridge or the Tacoma Narrows Bridge. From a human perspective the Extropians provide an extraordinary look at what might become a beehive of activity. Perhaps it's my business acumen kicking in, but I find the organizational behavior to be a bit interesting, a sort of group think that removes boundaries. If we could only tap into that sort o fthinking to provide freedom and liberty for all instead of immortality for just a few.
Everything's for the best in this best of all possible acid trips (tinymonster) Fri 20 Jun 03 10:45
<clap clap clap> That's a great essay, <airman>! You definitely should save it off and keep it.
William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Fri 20 Jun 03 11:50
Wow! And just when I thought this discussion was starting to subside! Airman, you've outdone yourself - I agree with Tinymonster that this was, and is, a keeper. The trick is to find that perfect locus - a launch pattern for new scientific understanding, and useful new technology, that's been described as hitting a keyhole in the sky. If we're too practical, we fall back to Earth: we grumble like Grandfather in Peter and the Wolf, who can't see the good in any action even after it happens. ("What if Peter had not caught the wolf? What then, eh?") With this approach, we'd see science and technology dominated by the conceptual mainstream who ignore Shaw, stick with what they know, and thus rarely discover anything really new. But with insufficient rigor and practical discipline, science is just as unproductive. There's a role for sheer dead weight: in the keel, to keep us stable and upright. Brainstorming is necessary, but insufficient. No progress is made without great vision; but equally, no progress is made without the sleeves-up sweat that puts the vision into material form. Dream big! say the Extropians, Technocracy-ans, Libertarians, etc. Don't dream at all! say the scientific conservatives. Dream AND do, say I. Of course it's easier to say than do. Airman, I trust you realize the Tacoma Narrows Bridge was nicknamed Galloping Gertie because wind at a certain quarter and velocity set up a harmonic vibration in the thing. First it looked like a fat man trying out a hula hoop; then it collapsed. So there will always be setbacks along the way. I've had the good fortune over the last week to develop a parallel dialogue on some of these points with Mr Chris Phoenix, who by day is a mild-mannered imbedded-software engineer and by night puts on his superhero costume and flies off to make detailed calculations about molecular assemblers. We started off by beating each other up on various points, moved to a grudging mutual respect, and are now (I think) on the brink of a very exciting synthesis of ideas. Anthropologists call the process acculturation, though it often feels like a very noisy and painful collision. My position in the book Nanocosm is that most of the nanobot crew, along with their fellow travellers the corpsicle people, are off in la-la land, doing endless calcs and getting no nearer to a real device. I'm not convinced I was wrong yet: there are many points I made in the book that have not been fully answered to my mind. But I'm starting to suspect that with certain modifications, the nanoboosters could make contributions to legitimate nanotechnology - giving vision to the traditionalists' spadework, while informing their own work with more discipline and rigor. More on this soon! Ideas, anyone? Betsy? Airman? Tinymonster?
Where's the Flying Car (airman) Fri 20 Jun 03 18:46
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was when civilization first realized that aerodynamics needed to be taken into account. The Golden Gate Bridge was built with the aerodynamics in mind, but rarely experiences 60+ mph winds and upwards of 100 mph winds which may close the roadway but the bridge stands tall. I suggest you read the work of one of the nanobot crew, "Nanomedicine". The book is the first of four volumes but lays the groundwork for anyone working at that level in great detail. The four volume (two are published so far) effort establishes a baseline of what is known briding the gaps in between biology, chemistry and physics. Right now, it seems like more endless calcs but in order to experimental work, much of the work required is a defense of what has been excluded and what has been assumed than of actual construction details. The chosen to-be-frozen of the nanoboosters come from many scientific disciplines and not just from the hard sciences. From science fiction to NASA engineering there is room for everyone in this future exploit if only to expand their personal horizons. For me the journey has left the hard sciences for the human body. Medical opportunities exist in all sorts of parts of the body. More importantly, electronic and optical appliances are really coming into their own. The last frontier may not be space nor the ocean but the human body. David Mathes 2003
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 3 Jul 03 14:57
I finally started reading Nanocosm. Although I'll slog through it because I want to learn about the current research, I'm going to have a tough time with the breathless, inflated, Wired-esque prose. There may not be any molecular assemblers but there's certainly a lot of hot air. In 2015, "The world currency is in U.S. dollars. That means the whole globe's functioning as a unified economy..." Well that's funny, I wonder how nanotech will kill off the Euro and bring peace to the Middle East? A scientist isn't just handsome, he's "out of most folks' league. You meet people like this now and then, men or women with everything. They have so much we lesser mortals aren't even jealous." Well nope, we aren't. Not even a little bit. In an interview with a scientist in Switzerland, we learn that "all Switzerland lives by its wits" and "the study and sale of atoms may yet remanufacture the earth into one hegemony: a single prosperious state." And what an accent: "I haff been selectedd to deal vith you because I vill remindt you of ze lovable Sergeant Schultz". Any venture capitalists who are hopefully reading the book and will give the author lots of money are reassured that "Silicon Valley still has it" and that "The main effect of the recent meltdown in e-business has been to dump more of The Young And The Stupid onto the job market. These TYATS are hungrier than ever and willing to take a flyer on an emerging sector that's full of promise...". Well, except that for the most part they don't have PhD's in a physical science. I was hoping (expecting, based on the interview) for a skeptical, fact-based take on things. This appears to be a slightly more realistic sales pitch.
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 3 Jul 03 15:29
(On re-reading the topic I realise that the prose style is most definitely intentional. I guess I was hoping for a different book. I've read popular science for too long and have developed an allergy to that sort of thing.)
Where's the Flying Car (airman) Thu 3 Jul 03 23:51
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Fri 4 Jul 03 23:08
Well, actually, I haven't read Microcosm. There was an interesting article about Gilder in Wired though: The Madness of King George http://www.wired.com/wired/archive/10.07/gilder_pr.html What a mess. Actually, my favorite part of Nanocosm is the Dexler debunking in chapter 5. There's nothing like a good debunking of a false prophet. (Even though it's something of a glass houses situation.)
Where's the Flying Car (airman) Sat 5 Jul 03 08:34
I thought it was an excellent debunking; it just didn't belong in that book.
William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 7 Jul 03 15:56
Thanks for reviving the discussion, guys! Just when I thought it had permanently wound down. It constantly knocks me out how various people love one aspect of Nanocosm, and hate others. The style is totally digital, both in the 1/0 sense (people adore it or despise it, no intervening states) and yes, it's a lot like the style of Wired and other new-age-digital pop journals. Something went ka-Snap! in me when I was drafting the book. I'd read (and God help me, written) so many earnest, politically correct, sleep-inducing science pieces over the decades that this time I wanted to have some fun - while conveying useful fact too. Some get it, some don't; some like it, some don't. Brian, you're not the only reader to feel as you do! But The Wall Street Journal called it "an irreverent romp", which was just what I was aiming for. So they realized I wasn't just mouthing off. By contrast, a lot of the nanoboosters loved the style but hated the (anti-Direxlerian) content. So you can't please 'em all, I guess, is the message. I may tone things down for the next book. Depends how I feel. I should have an URL for you shortly (2-5 days) for a website that's running up my dialogue with a Prince of Nanoboosters, Chris Phoenix. I'll post the URL here for you, and also cross-reference from it to this discussion at The Well. Lots of interesting stuff, and - who knows? maybe a beginning of some common ground. In any event, even if Chris and I merely end by agreeing to disagree, we've gained respect for eather other's insights and eloquence. And each has forced the other to refine and express key points better than ever. Brian, you'll find the style far less grating, I think.
William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Tue 8 Jul 03 09:35
Brian, I checked out your URL to Gilder. Excellent. Hey, and a style like mine! ;-)
William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Thu 17 Jul 03 08:05
Guys! The discussion continues: Check out - http://nanotech-now.com/Atkinson-Phoenix-Nanotech-Debate.htm Best, Bill
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 17 Jul 03 11:58
I think this sums it up: "It occurs to me that at least some of our issues have to do as much with how content is presented, as with actual content."
William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Fri 18 Jul 03 09:30
Yep, Brian, this appearance-is-reality thing is proving to be one of the key issues. It's not the whole story, but it's big. Check out Chris's latest (just posted) and my reply, which should be in the works no later than Saturday AM July 19th. Airman, you out there? Have you reviewed the new site?
Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Sun 20 Jul 03 19:35
who gets to say which the best arguments are?
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sun 20 Jul 03 19:57
"Commentary text by Chris Phoenix, except where otherwise noted."
William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 21 Jul 03 09:55
No formal vote, guys - each reader must weigh and consider. No need to take things to a formal conclusion. This is more like a garage sale, where everybody lays out his trash & treasures and everyone who's interested can come to browse. As so often happens, one of the most important messages is the subtext. Here, that's the astounding ability of daggers-drawn opponents to air arguments and make responses - in a manner that starts out frosty-but-civilized, moves through cordial, and is now bordering on downright chummy. "I disagree with what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it." Lo - the possible emergence of common ground!
Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Tue 22 Jul 03 15:51
> This is more like a garage sale I like that analogy, Bill.
Where's the Flying Car (airman) Wed 23 Jul 03 14:14
Bill Sorry, I've been in the blackhole of California - Pasadena - where all the freeways end, and the place is one big cold spot for telecom. Why? I don't know but Kinkos and the Hilton did provide me with connections so I'm not complaining too much. I'll check out the other discussion/
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