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« Growing Acceptance | Main | Lessons from History »

April 25, 2004


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There are two separate issues going on here. One issue that the technology exacutives are right on the money about, the other where they are way off base.

The issue of labor costs becoming increasingly irrelevent is correct. The new fabs are highly automated and the push is for a "lights out" fab in the 300mm wafer processing. That is, where there are no employees involved in the production process.

It is not just tax holidays that these companies are looking for. They are looking for a regulatory environment that does not interfer in the operation of their business.

I will begin marketing a biochip scanner for diagnostic applications. This is a cheap scanner that uses biochips to test for allergies. We can sell this in China and other Asian countries. We cannot sell this in the U.S. without a lengthy pre-market approval process that involves documenting the entire design process from start to finish.

Guess what markets we will go for and what markets we will ignore. I have met medical device entrepreneurs who are down right hostile to the regulatory climate and the whole health system in the U.S.

It is certain to me that the U.S. (and Western Europe) will fall behind in medical technology to the rest of the world. I also believe that the first effective rejuvenation therapies, based on stem-cell regeneration and gene therapy, will become available in Asia or even Latin America before becoming available in either the U.S. or Western Europe.

If the U.S. federal government tries to make it a crime for Americans to travel abroad for medical treatment, I can assure you that there will be a revolution that will be far bloodier than any before in history.

I have absolutely no tolorance for any government or religion that stands in the way or tries to prevent people from improving thier own lives and bodies. I specifically do not want any agency that has an anti-immortalist agenda to have any control whatsoever over the development of nanotechnology, and I will fight any efforts for such control.

The other issue that is brought up in this article is completely bogus. That is the notion that America has too few engineers and scientists. If this is true, then why are their unemployed engineers and scientists? there are many examples of PhD technology people driving cabs because they cannot find work.

The myth of an engineer shortage comes up from time to time since the late 80's. The dynamic is as follow:

A student graduates with either a BS, MS, or PhD. He gets a job, moves up the ladder for a 10-15 year period, then gets laid-off in the enevitable downsizing. Since he is 40 or so, he then has a hard time finding work since HR funkies (who now do all the hiring at most corporations) consider him to be "too old" for the position.

The current buzzword concept among the "career consultants" is that he should "learn new job skills" so that he can enter the next new industry. In theory, this makes sense. Someone who has an IQ high enough to learn plasma physics or semiconductor materials technology certainly can learn biotechnology and genetic engineering work. The problem once again are the HR dweebs. This "retrained" person is knowledgable, but does not have the proper "job experience" and is "too old" for the position. He gets passed over.

I can sell biochip scanners in Asia. I am working on several large orders and am working with them to specify the design of the scanner and the pricing strategy. This is something that a VP would do at a larger company. This is not rocket science and is certainly easier to do than plasma physics and thin film material design.

I expect to make it. Yet, I do not apply for this kind of job, because the HR dweebs would never accept me.

Engineering and scientific professions "chew up" their practitioners. A typical scientific career lasts 10-15 years, until the "downward spiral" sets in.

It has been said in several business magazine articles that getting a technical degree is a form of high-stakes gambling.

Young people are aware of this dynamic. They make the rational decision not to go into technical fields to avoid being a victim of this dynamic. This is the real reason why young people are avoiding technical fields. It is an entirely rational reason that the high tech execs such as Mr. Barrett are loath to discuss publicly.


Great comment, Kurt! I totally agreed with what you said. Asia market is vast open and everyone would love to go get a piece of its pie while the US market will shrink due to the inept government policies.

Will you plan to sell your biochip scanner in Thailand? Healthcare is a big market here.



Yes, we are targeting Thailand as well. We are making two scanners. One is for diagnostic market and we are trying to make it as cheap as possible (around US$2,000 or so). This one will read low-density biochips (50-70 spots) that can contain allergens for allergy testing as well as other disease testing.

The other one will be a high-end system for biotech R&D. We hope to make this such that it can read genomic chips containing up to 10,000 spots. We hope to have both scanners on the market by June.

The problem with the U.S. is the regulatory environment with regards to health care. From what I understand, Western Europe is even worse. The other issue is that many of the Asian countries have rudimentary health care systems, which means that people must pay for medical treatments themselve, without benefit of third-party system. This makes health care industry extremely cost-driven, unlike that of the U.S., but because of the lack of regulatory oversight, makes market development much easier and quicker.

My previous post had a rather angry tone to it. This anger is real. I still believe in the U.S. and its freemarket, pioneering spirit. Thats the only thing I believe in about the U.S. Everything else about U.S. culture (including religion) can take a hike as far as I'm concerned.

The entrepreneurial spirit is no longer limited to the U.S. The trends in the U.S. that work against the self-expression of individuals as well as the entrepreneurial spirit threaten to destroy the U.S. economic prowness.

I depsise big government and religion. I despise big business almost as much as the other two.

Mr. Farlops

Isn't it funny how the "our technology is falling behind" rhetoric becomes more common during presidential election years? What generally happens is some congressional district gets more money and some research and development programs are started. These programs often turn out to be useless because the private sector didn't really need help anyway or some other technology breakthrough makes the whole issue irrelevent.

Remember MITI's Fifth Generation Project? Remember all the hysteria over HDTV standards? Remember the panic over flat-panel technology?

It's my opinion that abstract and applied science are already very globalized. Research into molecular manufacturing will emerge from papers and experiements conducted throughout the world. At that point, once the methods become clear, the winner will be whoever has the most money.

I think it's as simple as that.

If the Federal Government, especially the defense establishment, learn that nanofactories are possible, they'll just pour a small fraction of their enormous budget into development. If it's a race with another country, more money will be poured in until the other country says uncle.

We forget how much money the Pentagon commands, even in this post-cold war world. We forget how the Cold War was won--we just spent the Soviet Union into the ground.

It's true that the Chinese economy is evolving rapidly and is already quite large, but it's still one tenth the size of the US economy. It seems unlikely to me that gap will shrink significantly for another ten years.

I'm not worried. Not because I believe that the United States has unique economic, political, cultural, educational or scientific excellence. We don't. We just command a nearly a third of the global gross domestic product. Which way would you bet?

Really--if it came down to an decision between placating religous conservatives and deep environmentalists or making certain that India or Brazil doesn't build the nanoweapons first, guess which way the government will decide? Never underestimate the military paranoia of the United States, it trumps all else--even if Pat Robertson were elected king of us all.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Kurt: You state that the article is wrong about an undersupply of scientists, since many scientists are unemployed. But the article didn't quite say that there was an undersupply. It said that we're graduating fewer scientists than we need to be competitive. This may be true. And if we're only employing a portion of the scientists we have, that only makes the situation worse.

Mr. Farlops: China has 1/10 our economy--but they can also, from what I've heard, do research at 1/10 the cost. And they can spend more of their military budget on R&D than we can (I don't know if they're doing that or not).

About the idea that the winner will be the one who spends the most: If you handed out a nanofactory bootstrap recipe to everyone tomorrow, the winner wouldn't be the one with the most money. It would be the one with the best software and the most flexible engineers. The U.S. is world-class in that regard, but we're also pretty complacent.

There are several counterintuitive things about MNT. One is that almost all the benefits come at the point when 100% manufacturing closure is achieved. Another is that it's not the technology that's important, it's the product design--and software may well be the hardest and longest thing to develop! So if we wait until someone else is close to developing a nanofactory with software, and then we start writing software of our own, we've lost the race.

Of course, in the big scheme of things, losing the nano development race might be preferable to an arms race. If one country wins decisively and follows up their advantage to subjugate the globe, then we might avoid all-out nano-built war.

Of course, this won't be thinkable to most Americans. So this implies a first-strike temptation. Can you picture us preemptively attacking China, Russia, or India if it came down to a choice between that and letting them develop an unbeatable military advantage?


Chris Phoenix, CRN

Kurt: one question: have you thought about selling into the veterinary market in the U.S.? It ought to be much less regulated. And Americans probably spend more on their pets than some countries spend on their people.

And when people see their pets getting vastly better treatment than is available for themselves, they're going to get upset and overturn the regulations.



The veterinary market is a good one that I did not think about. Thanks for the suggestion.

About an undersupply of scientists and technical professionals. If we are graduating to few of them to be competitive, then why are so many scientists and technical professionals unemployed?

The limiting factor here is not an undersupply of technical people, but a lack of opportunity for those we have. This may be due to our economy simply being too small for the number of technical people we have. It may also be due to the fact that these people do not have the right knowledge to move into new technical fields. It most certainly is not due to the fact that we are graduating too few technical professionals. Indeed, it suggests that we are graduating too many technical people relative to the economy's ability to absorb them and make use of their knowledge.

I believe the problem lies in the dysfunctional nature of coporate culture. These dysfunctionalities are based on human nature and are inherent to any large social organization. That is one of the reason why I am libertarian, making a go at it on my own, and increasingly becoming a "nano-anarchist".

I simply do not believe the "top-down" social organization can solve problems or, indeed, is capable of productive work. Thats why I want to "do them all in".

Cowardly Toad

Mike Treader wrote:

"We point all this out not because we are cheerleaders for U.S. business, but because falling behind in basic research could result in a molecular manufacturing breakthrough taking place in a country that is not friendly to basic human rights or to Western democracy."

Given the current and past behaviour of the US government overseas, I'm not at all confident of the USA's ability - or in fact its desire - to use MNT wisely. The US government has repeatedly demonstrated an extraordinary willingness to violate the fundamental human rights of the citizens of foreign nations, engaging in or supporting assassinations, kidnappings, torture, perversion of election processes, etc. The prospect of globally-available MNT that empowers all human beings fills me with a great excitement and perhaps some trepidation. But the prospect of the United States achieving a leading position in the race to develop MNT fills me with an aching dread.

Brett Bellmore

I know that I don't trust our government with it, but I trust other governments even less. The fact is, pretty much all governments behave badly if they find themselves with the power to get away with it.

That's why this really needs to be done in the private sector. At least killing people who don't obey isn't considered SOP in business.

Bravo Romeo Delta

In the end analysis, there's not a lot of things that have been done in the corporate sector, interms of technology, that haven't been replicated by governmental actors.

This being said, maybe the easiest way to skin this cat is to push for massive, across-the-board implementation. While not a great answer, it seems that certianly the biggest problems arise when there is tension between the haves and have nots. As soon as the technology gets restricted, it doesn't disappear, it just passes from plain sight.

Mike Treder, CRN

In the debate over whether development would be safer in government hands, in the private sector, or in a combination, CRN has proposed an joint collaboration, including the Free Source movement as well. See our paper on "A Proposed Application for Effective Administration of Molecular Nanotechnology".

Brett Bellmore

"Consider this question: “How much should a corporation pay for the right to kill someone?” The question is appalling. Obviously corporations have no right to kill anyone, under any circumstances. Yet other institutions in our society sometimes do have that right. A policeman has every right to kill a criminal who is trying to kill him. And yet, the question, “How much should a policeman pay for the right to kill someone?” is also appalling. The words “pay” and “kill” simply don't belong together—except in the Mafia. An institutional system that involves the ability to kill people should not also involve money."

You do notice the little shift there? From "right to kill", to, "right to kill somebody who's trying to kill you"? The reason corporations don't have the right to kill, ever, is not that they aren't police. It's because they aren't people, except in a limited legal sense. People, all people, not just police, have the right to kill in self defense.


When will the use nanomedicne to treat diseases like cancer

Janessa Ravenwood

alozie: Pretty darn soon. The gold nanoshells approach is being tested for cancers as we speak (last I checked), but the real killer is the disease of aging. 100% of the population is infected with it and it's 100% fatal. At least cancer has a survival rate.

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