Reducing Nanotechnology to "Vaporware"

Critiques of the nanotechnology enterprise should be welcome but maybe we should be asking for more from them

2 min read

Reducing Nanotechnology to "Vaporware"

I have to confess to getting more than a small chuckle from a recent blog entry from Scott Locklin, who reduces the entire enterprise of nanotechnology to 25 years of charlatanry.

The criticism takes two forms. In one, the idea of labeling the surface and colloidal science “nanotechnology” is a bit bogus. Secondly, the Drexlerian vision of nanotechnology he characterizes as little more than science fiction.

On the former characterization, he will probably get little more than a shrug from the chemists and advanced material scientists he seems to be assailing. But I imagine the latter critique of Drexler and molecular manufacturing (MNT) will garner him relentless harangues, if my experience with simply discussing the subject, never mind criticizing it, is any indication.

[Editor's note: This paragraph had to be changed to reflect my mix up between Laclan Cranswick and Scott Locklin.] Locklin has even provided a link to Laclan's Cranswick's website, the name of which is not repeatable on this blog (according to the website Cranswick passed away in January of this year) Cranswick's site offered critical views of nanotechnology at least since 2005 (when I first became aware of his work) . The site even made a few references to some items published by the firm I work for that expressed a fair amount of skepticism towards “nanotechnology”.

Now my viewpoint on these objections of Locklin is a bit more tempered than his, albeit the name of this blog is “Nanoclast”. As far as finding it a bit wrong to call advanced material science or chemistry by the term “nanotechnology”, this argument has been offered innumerable times before. And as appealing as it may be to think that this change in nomenclature is the result of some marketing conspiracy, the term does help to focus what is at work here.

Nanotechnology is not just chemistry and advanced material science, it is a zoo of disciplines that have to be brought together at times to develop technologies that are enabled by the bizarre behavior of the world at the nanoscale. This can involve biologists to chemists from physicists to electrical engineers. It is a word that becomes so broad at times that it nearly begins to lose all meaning. But we do need something to delineate this research from merely chemistry because it is not just chemistry. And the term "nanotechnology" is as good as any other.

Now as for his attack on Drexler’s work, one would do better to look at Drexler’s more recent work and views on atomically precise manufacturing rather than to continue to focus on his now quarter-century-old PhD thesis.

I like Locklin’s point of view, and it’s one that I have shared more or less on occasion, albeit not to his degree, but I think the criticism of nanotechnology in its entirety needs to become somewhat more sophisticated if it is to move beyond just broad humor, funny though it may be.

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