Pop Culture and Nanotech: A Telling Barometer

Perhaps the largest landmark for nanotech in the landscape of popular culture has been Michael Crichtonâ''s 2002 work, â''Preyâ''. What may be painfully familiar to anyone who has followed anything to do with nanotechnology over the past seven years, or has read the book, the plot details how a medical imaging technology enabled by nanobots leads to great swarms of nanobots devouring everything around them and creating a â''grey gooâ''.

One argument goes that this book put such a pall over nanotechnology--at least the kind of nanotechnology that involves nanobots--that when it came time to fund and launch a national nanotechnology initiative, the ideas of molecular nanotechnology with assemblers and table-top factories were abandoned in favor of nanoscale material science.

Well, nanoscale material science is getting its comeuppance at the hands of popular culture. Thanks to the â''unofficial blogâ'' for the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at the University of California Santa Barbara, I was informed of a new television program in the US called â''Eleventh Hourâ''. In last weekâ''s episode â''a slew of Massachusetts residentsâ'¿were getting hit by lightening well above what we'd expect by chance alone. The source of the problem was traced to a fictional company working on "nanofilaments" that were found to be growing throughout people's skin and therefore making them more conductive.â''

There you have it. No more are nanobots going to devour the planet leaving a grey goo in their wake but we are all going to mysteriously get nanofilaments in our skin and lightening will strike less randomly and more regularly.

You know the fictional future I would prefer to actually see would be the grey goo.

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