Nanotechnology by Any Other Name...Is Something Else Entirely

One of the issues I discussed in my very first post on Tech Talk was how advocates for Eric Drexlerâ''s vision for molecular nanotechnology (MNT) were trying to wrestle back ownership of the term â''nanotechnologyâ''. And in my most recent post, I bemoaned the seemingly endless parade of wrong-headed definitions of nanotechnology.

It appears that definition is just an insurmountable problem for nanotechnology. The latest example of this is a response on the Foresight Instituteâ''s Nanodot blog that takes issue with Richard Jonesâ'' recent blog entry that was first published in Natureâ''s Nanotechnology publication, entitled â''The Economy of Promisesâ''.

The point of Jonesâ'' pieceâ''at least to my readingâ''is that over hyping the near-term potential of nanotechnology does more harm than good, not only to investors who believe the malarkey but also to nanoscientists, whoâ''although they should know betterâ''are drawn into believing the hype themselves.

In broadening his point, Jonesâ'' refers to Alfred Nordmannâ''s contention in If and then: a critique of speculative nanoethics that â''speculations on the ethical and societal implications of the more extreme extrapolations of nanotechnology serve implicitly to give credibility to such visions.â'' To illustrate this phenomenon Jones uses the Foresight Institute and the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology as examples.

The Foresight Institute was not going to take this perceived attack lying down and claim that the real problem is that material scientists co-opted their term â''nanotechnologyâ''.

As the argument seems to go, Drexler popularized the term nanotechnology in his book Engines of Creation, and so when the general public heard that thousands of scientists were working on â''nanotechnologyâ'' of course they thought that table-top factories and nanobots were just around the corner. This is why nanotechnology has failed in its promise.

If I follow that logic, all would be well with the world if material scientists described their work at engineering and manipulating materials on the nanoscale to bring about novel properties as anything but â''nanotechnologyâ''.

And no doubt if this had held true, all the funding that now gets funneled into national nanotechnology initiatives around the world would either not exist at all or be aimed at quite different purposes.

One result of these different purposes might have been that today we would have much better computer-generated animation of how a table-top factory might work someday.


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