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« The Implausibility of Impossibility | Main | Starting with the Basics »

May 31, 2004


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How about: who really wants MM? Is this any different than every other pot-of-gold, sell-you-soul, post-scaricity scam that litters the world of fairy tales and history? (if this is real, are you the hero or the villan in the story? do the villans usually think they are the heros?)

Is there something about certain cultures or psychological profiles that leads to the great wealth of some in no way mitigating the unfathomable suffering of others? If so, what does that mean for MM?

Or, are there likely to be any irreversable consequences to the creation of MM? If so, who are the stakeholders in those matters? How about: how does the promise of unprecedented power via MM affect the perceptions of policy makers persuing it?

There are many many questions that are not on your list of 30 and point in different directions. Readers can see that you are not just cautioning us re the inevitability of MM, but CRN is one of the primary advocates for its creation. While you appear to ask cautionary questions, the disingenousness of your critical spirit is evident from your failure to engage with the full spectrum of your critics. ETC is not meaningfully engaged with, but condescended to, something a group like CRN should not do. Gregor Wolbring has been marginalized after speaking critically at the first NBIC conference, but is an articulate speaker for a group whose perspectives are of vital importance (the disability rights community.) Critics are systematicallly marginalized and it makes for illegitimate debate.


I'm sorry about the spelling above, had to type quickly at work.

Mike Deering

I agree with you AntiNano, CRN is advocating the rapid development of MM rather than attempting to stop it from coming. But then, so am I. I also agree with you that there are serious problems with possible global ecological effects and the unprecedented power of the technology brings out unprecedented political actions. But then again, I can't wait to explore the possibilities. And I agree with you that certain questions are not given much attention, like rights of the disabled, eugenics, discrimination, cloning, indigenous cultures, and diversity. But then finally, these are all moot subjects in the face of existential risks.

Mike Treder, CRN

antinano wrote:

"Readers can see that you are not just cautioning us re the inevitability of MM, but CRN is one of the primary advocates for its creation. While you appear to ask cautionary questions, the disingenousness of your critical spirit is evident from your failure to engage with the full spectrum of your critics... Critics are systematicallly marginalized and it makes for illegitimate debate."

Yes, on balance CRN sees that the benefits of molecular manufacturing outweigh the risks by a substantial amount, and therefore the technology should be developed rapidly. BUT - we also see that the risks of MM have been underestimated by an even more substantial amount, and that without careful attention to the issues we and others have raised, the cure could be worse than the disease, even fatal.

I'm sorry that you view us as disingenuous and dismissive of critics. We don't mean to be that way. Perhaps our failure to address all of the areas highlighted above is due in part to our small size and inability to concentrate at this point on more than our core mission.

Mr. Farlops

A question springs to my mind. Where does the CRN stand relative to the Foresight Institute in terms of politics? Is the CRN more cautious than Foresight or about the same? In the last few posts Mike and Chris wanted to stay above political parties and candidates and instead advocate policy that transcends the spectrum.

The reason I was drawn to the CRN in the first place was because Mike and Chris advocated a view that stood above the empty mantras of the techno-libertarian set and from the luddites of the left and right.

But I am a little worried. Mike and Chris are just two people and they've only been at this for about a year. I've yet to send their organization any money because it may come to naught. It's going to take more than just two people to sway policy in Washington DC.

Perhaps it might be better for Mike and Chris to join with Foresight and sort of become the political arm of that organization. Foresight already has the credibility, staff and connections and I'd feel safer supporting their efforts within Foresight's larger efforts.

Or am I totally missing the point?

From what I've read Mike and Chris both know various folks within Foresight and have been at many meetings over the years. Was there a reason why you guys decided to head out on your own? Foresight too stodgy for you? Too loaded with extropian optimists?

Janessa Ravenwood

To: antinano
From: a PRO nano person

The ETC Group is not meaningfully engaged as they are a bunch of lunatic Luddites who rely upon shoddy "scientific" studies to try to peddle their anti-science and anti-technology political agenda. Engaging them would confer upon them legitimacy they do not deserve. They are left out of serious debates because no rational person could take them seriously. That you apparently do speaks volumes about your position.

And lastly, "antinano,” Intel has reached the nano-scale with their newest chips. What will you do when virtually all computers available on the market have nano-scale micro-circuitry in their chips? Will you no longer use computers then as they will employ that awful, evil nanotechnology? Somehow, I doubt it. It’s just what I’ve come to see as typical behavior from the Luddites – use the fruits of science and technology to criticize science and technology; just blatant hypocrisy.



Ad hominine attacks against ETC (or critics in general) are a shallow tactic, and not one that shows much honest confidence in one's own position.

Check out these quotes from a NYT story on Pat Mooney, head of ETC, from 2/3/03

"Mr. Mooney is more often cautiously earnest than shrill. 'We are not assuming this is an evil, awful technology,' Mr. Mooney said last week. 'I suspect quite a bit can be done that's useful.' The danger, he said, is that governments and public interest groups do not have enough control over assessing risks and setting priorities..."Making fun of Pat Mooney is not the way to go here," said Christine Peterson, co-founder and president of the Foresight Institute, nanotechnology's leading forum for discussion. "This is a sincere, smart man who doesn't have any trouble with logic."

Another expert who voices at least grudging respect is Kevin D. Ausman, executive director for operations at the Center for Biological and Environmental Nanotechnology at Rice University, a new federally financed research center. "ETC is the first nonscientific group to start to address the issue of toxic impact of nanomaterials," Mr. Ausman said. But he expressed dismay that ETC is warning of risks he considers to be in the realm of science fiction, like green goo."

Full text at http://www.nytimes.com/2003/02/03/technology/03NANO.html?ex=1086235200&en=e96911122d252d06&ei=5070

Mike Treder says
"I'm sorry that you view us as disingenuous and dismissive of critics. We don't mean to be that way. Perhaps our failure to address all of the areas highlighted above is due in part to our small size and inability to concentrate at this point on more than our core mission."
When CRN focuses on "risks" like "gosh, what will it do to the economy when everybody can have everything they want for nothing??"...that's not meaningful risk assessment, that's thinly veiled giddiness.
If your core mission is pushing MM and so secondary to that is evaluating risks, then the word RESPONSIBLE in your org's name is just a facade, which is what I've long believed, that you began at least as a watch-dog front group, much like CBEN at Rice.

You contend that most folks underestimate the risks of nano compared to your group, but I don't think that the arguments that you are avoiding are in the slightest bit unrealistic: that nano could further exaggerate disparities in power (my primary concern), including having EUGENIC consequences (not pretty), and that nano could cause toxic catastrophes because of its novel properties. CRN spends an enormous amount of time trying to prove that MM is possible, while there are glaring issues that must be engaged with if the word Responsible is to have any meaning. But then honest answers to those questions might damper your enthusiasm for the full speed ahead MM project.

Another good example is the work of Dr. Langdon Winner, one of the witnesses at the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science hearing on The Societal Implications of Nanotechnology, April 9, 2003. http://www.house.gov/science/hearings/full03/apr09/winner.htm

The other witnesses, Kurzweil, Colvin and Peterson didn’t respond to Winner’s critiques at all. One congressperson went so far as to call him “Mr. Weener,” which, while funny, was a real disservice to his arguments. And he’s a professor at one of the 6 NSF Nanoscale Science and Engineering Centers.

Even some pro-nano writers have been arguing that your camp needs to engage with your critics before you lose the debate, much like technocrats have lost the GE debate amongst much of the world’s population.

To Janessa,

Is ETC a group that no rational person could take seriously? Lots of folks felt otherwise when they blew the whistle on Monsanto's development of Terminator Technology, or when they alerted the World Congress of Indigenous Peoples' to the racist implications of the Human Genome Diversity Project. (Both projects that stopped once ETC helped shed the light of public attention on them.) But perhaps you consider farmers concerned with their autonomy and indigenous people concerned with cultural survival to be irrational. Pretty odd standard, given some of the funky stuff coming out of the pro-nano camp (“We would perhaps become more of a hive mind — an enormous, single, intelligent entity.” NSF/DOC report on NBIC p150)

On hypocrisy: please spare me. I can type critical questions about nanotech on a computer, even if enhanced by nanotech, and still sleep just fine at night. I’m not happy about the ubiquitous nature of converging technologies, but I’m going to engage with them enough to help get out important, critical perspectives.

Sorry for the long grumpy post…

Janessa Ravenwood


A) If you post to a pro-nanotech site with the handle “antinano” then you had better expect some harsh criticism of your posts. You’re on the other side.

B) I’m not interested in engaging Luddite organizations. I’m interesting in defeating them and or getting around them because I’m trying to live forever and they want me to die.

C) The ETC Group has called for a moratorium on the development of nanotechnology. They are also anti-GM Foods, a “ethical” stance based on scare tactics and superstitious hysteria which is killing people in underdeveloped countries who could benefit from GM foods. Hence I call them Luddites because they are. They’re Greens who want to ban biotechnology and nanotechnology. To anyone who wants to see a nanotech future they are the enemy, make no mistake about it.

That is why I don’t take them seriously. Anyone who wants to stop the future of scientific research and technology development easily qualifies as a fringe extremist. I don’t listen to the arguments of fringe extremists, end of story.

jim moore

Antinano ( I guess thats giga ;-) {ha-ha geek joke}

If you go through and read the 30 questions and their preliminary answers the first 16 are technical feasibility questions. The basic answer is Yes MNT (nano-factories) are doable, maybe for as little as 1 billion dollars spent over 5 years. Very technologically optimistic.

But the last 14 are very different. If you can read through all of those questions and answers and not come away deeply concerned about the implications of MNT for everyone, you don't know what you have read. They state that a "nano" arms race is LIKELY . This arms race will be unstable and the likely targets of the following war will be civilians. MNT has the capability of facilitating genocide on a global scale. If we don't find and implement a solution to the arms race problem all is lost. This threat has to be the top concern.

As for your main concerns please continue to contribute. Issues of social power are very important. How MNT is developed and used will likely amplify the current social stratification unless steps are deliberately taken to ensure that something else happens.

The long run impact of MNT on individuals, groups, the human race, local ecosystems, the global environment and the evolution of life will most likely be profound.

Please don't assume that CRN is a "booster" for nanotech because they spend a lot of time defending the technical case for MNT, if people don't believe that MNT is possible (quite a few people don't believe that it is possible) they will not waste their time thinking about the consequences of MNT.

L. Slavich

After reading CRN's thirty topics, I find that it would be difficult for anyone to seriously consider CRN 'condescending', 'scared that no one is paying attention to the consequences' might be a better classification. There is a feeling of urgency in nearly every topic, especially in the last half of the list.

The consequences of MNT will be huge and, unfortunately, many problems will be only discovered after a Drexlerian MNT device exists. However, some possible negative side effects can be planned for, can you also offer a possible solution to some of these problems that you see? Please, input would be very helpful and enlightening, I've been studying the social and economic implications of MNT for some time now, and still don't know enough.

You are concern, or perhaps have nightmares about possible eugenic consequences, please explain, and any suggestions?

Sorry for the phrasing, it's late, it comes down to this, you are worried, what about? and have you thought up any solutions to your worries?

Richard Jones

To antinano, on why many people don't take ETC very seriously...
Actually, I think a couple of the worries you mention that ETC have raised are rather serious. The issues of control and governance of technology, and the ethics surrounding the boundary between human remediation and enhancement are really important. I even think the worries underlying the idea of "Green Goo" are serious too. But ETC indiscriminately mixes up these real worries with misunderstandings and outright ignorance both of scientific basics and of the way technology already impacts on society in a way which destroys their credibility.

And what you see as ETCs big success, in raising the profile of the problem of nanoparticle toxicity, is something that is already turning out to be a Pyrrhic victory. I was surprised to hear Greenpeace's Doug Parr talking about the nanoparticle toxicity issue as "a rather irritating little problem" at a meeting last fall, but I now see what he meant. Because it is a real, but fairly easily manageable, problem, everyone in the pro-nano science and business camps has happily agreed to treat it seriously - all over the world nanotubes are being put in glove boxes and rats are being sacrificed in toxicity studies. The effect of this is simply to give the pro-nano side an opportunity to demonstrate how responsible they are while keeping attention away from the broader and arguably more serious issues.


Ok, thanks for the feedback and glad to see some other critical voices on some of these threads. I don't have much time right now to respond to the issues like I'd like to, but hopefully other folks will.

On GMO's being a vital food source, see "10 reasons Why GMO's won't feed the world" http://www.thecornerhouse.org.uk/document/tenreas.html

On the integrity of the 30 questions:
Let's look for example at question 25, on civil rights
Subquestion: What effect will new surveillance capabilities have on privacy (used by government or privately)?

Oops, too late. DARPA has allready funded the creation of products like Smart Dust, intended for ubiquitous surveilance and medical implants and it's allready hitting the market. See, for example the following interview with the inventors: http://www.govtech.net/magazine/sup_story.php?id=89577&magid=17&issue=3:2004

Subquestion:What effects will new surveillance capabilities and/or weapons have on governments and other power wielders?
Preliminary answer: An unaided human would be completely defenseless against even primitive versions of a sensor web and telepresence robotics.

Oops, too bad. Pro-nanoheads don't seem to give a rip about the implications of unfathomable military dominance over every one else, if anything they like it. Because like all of us do (I believe), pro-nanos have unexamined imperial and white supremacist assumptions in they're thinking. Likewise, nano-boosters are likely part of a super privileged class likely to see further benifits from nano-armies. Was it CRN's Chris that went to China recently? Did he voice concerns about a Chinese nano-army squashing all the more ably any Tibetan dissent or the next Tienneman Square? I doubt it given the four star grub he was eating.

Subquestion: What effects could new medical technologies have on personal autonomy and sanctity of thought?

The Center for Cognitive Liberty seems a little funky, but they're a start. They appear to be welcome in some nano-forums. A better step would be to include survivors of forced psychiatric "treatment", like the awesome folks at www.mindfreedom.org I know that the folks at Transhumanist Assctn have included some transgendered folks, but how about some working class trannies or folks from the disability rights community. Gregor Wolbring (www.bioethicsanddisability.org) focuses on nanotech a lot, but there's also www.mouthmag.com, http://www.ragged-edge-mag.com/ and the academics at http://www.h-net.org/~disabil/

Those folks will fight for autonomy, not put it on the back burner behind such big money issues as nano-wealth.

CRN says "It will be much easier to live 'off grid', perhaps even off earth. There will be strong demand for health improvement, which leads naturally to human augmentation."

But actually that's the critique of some of the folks in the disability rights movement, that the demand for "improvement" and "augmentation" is anything but "natural"...instead historically located in a context of cultural coercion: our culture says people with disabilities are "broken" or worse, that they should have never been born. (eugenics) Many folks with disabilities are super happy, though struggling with an unjust and unacommidating culture. As such, they've got a vital political perspective on justice generally.

Subquestion: To what extent can manufacturing breakthroughs alleviate poverty and misery?
Preliminary answer: This question is important because poverty and misery are breeding grounds for instability and terrorism, and extreme poverty is a human rights violation according to the UN Declaration. It should be possible to eradicate poverty and misery worldwide with very little effort or cost.

This is one place where ETC is strong, in demonstrating a history of new tech making poverty worse. See, for example, the early sidebar in The Big Down. Likewise, who did the largest public application of a nano-manufactured substance fall on? Indigenous people, without their informed consent. Pretty typical. (http://www.etcgroup.org/article.asp?newsid=413)

Vandana Shiva, in Staying Alive, points out that there's a fundamental difference between the "poverty" of lack of access to the global market while maintaining self sufficiency as opposed to the poverty of a post-colonial, "developed" wasteland, as most of the world now lives in.

Nanoheads sometimes say that "not enough is known about how new science and technology affect society"...but that's not true! There's tomes and tomes dedicated to just that question, but the conclusions are often contrary to the agenda of the pro-tech camp. Thus they are conveniently ignored.

Another good book on this is "World Hunger: Twelve Myths" online at http://www.foodfirst.org/pubs/backgrdrs/1998/s98v5n3.html

And www.foodfirst.org is generally a good resource.

Industry has generally proven itself a self-serving, toxifying, untrustworthy part of the world community. Nano is such a source of power, there is zero reason to believe that it will not be used to amass further power at the expense of people generally. Such is the cultural context within which it is being developed.

Janessa Ravenwood

I'm dying of laughter! You're absolutely determined to focus on all of the worst possible consequences of nanotechnology. Did it ever occur to you that SOME good might...just MIGHT!...come of it? Why no, that couldn't possibly happen!

The long list of far lefty / fringe organization websites does not impress me. I've heard of several of them and don't take them seriously. And now I'm a white supremacist because I'm pro-nano! You're a riot. This comedy routine just keeps getting better.

Dwell on this - you're on the losing side. The Greens can whine all they want. The momentum and money behind this cannot be stopped, no matter how much you feel like fantasizing to the contrary. It's coming and there's nothing you can do to stop it.

Feel free to chew on that. You can "rage against the machine" all you want, but that rage is impotent. In this case, the machine's going to win despite any of your feeble efforts to stop it. But feel free to try. It won't make any difference in the real world and I'm enjoying the show at this point.


I hope you were rubbing your hands together after typing that. You forgot the "Mwah ha ha!!!" evil villain laugh.

Janessa Ravenwood

Quite right, my apologies:

"MWA-HA-HA-HA-HA! The Greens shall be vanquished and the world shall be ours! Nanotechnology shall rule and the Luddites will be utterly crushed beneath our diamondoid-soled boots! HA-HA-HA!"

[rubs her hands together in fiendish glee]


Richard Jones

Antinano writes:
"This is one place where ETC is strong, in demonstrating a history of new tech making poverty worse. See, for example, the early sidebar in The Big Down. "
Well, I'm not an economic historian, so I might have believed this. But then, I read the second sidebar in The Big Down, which tells me that abalone shells are strong because of quantum size effects. Now, I am a physicist, so I do know this is completely wrong - it's the same (very classical) fracture mechanics that tells you why you should add chopped straw to mud bricks. Then, I read the third side bar, about artificial elements. There's only one artificial element that exists in tonne quantities - plutonium - but it's nowhere mentioned. Why is this? It's not even as if the omission supports their argument, so it must just be simple ignorance. I'm only on page 17, and I could go on... but my conclusion from all this will be the same as all other informed readers. If the parts that I do know about are so ill-informed, I'm going to treat the whole document with deep scepticism. Which, unfortunately, means that any valid points that the report might make completely lose their impact.

Janessa Ravenwood

That, and it begs the ludicrous question "Should we stop creating new technology in the hopes of improving poverty?" The idea is ridiculous at any rate as technology continues to improve the lot of the human race year after year. Anyone who thinks technology is bad idea should go live in a cave and sleep on a pile of sticks. Little things like modern medicine, better agricultural techniques, and clean water are examples of technology betting the lot of the human race. If anitinano were truly serious about reducing poverty, he (she?) would be backing nanotechnology 100%. That he despises it utterly and doesn’t want to see it come about at all reveals his true ideological agenda – opposing technology in spite of the fact that it could help the poor people he professes to care so much about. That and he uses a computer (soon to all have nano-scale chips in them) to denounce nanotechnology. I could least have SOME respect for an anti-technologist who didn’t use technology to get his message out.

Janessa Ravenwood

Typo: "betting" should be "bettering"


On caring for humanity:

"Being human sucks - I despise being human. I'm ready for something better ASAP." -Janessa Ravenwood at The Speculist 5.7.04 http://www.speculist.com/archives/000812.html

On ETC and science:
Interesting points brought up above. At least they are specific. They don't seem like the strongest examples though. "Error #1" seems like a missapplied example made by people who may not be specialists in your field. They are, perhaps, specialists in social sciences/economic history. I grant validity to your knowlege in your specialty regardless of any mistaken examples you might make about mine. Error #2 doesn't seem like such an error, as much as an ommission. I think that specialists in any given field could take issue with the examples, ommisions and observations made of their field by a cross-disciplinary group, but I don't think those issues taken can be responsibly used to invalidate the cross-disciplinary group themselves. If, as someone who is not an economic historian, you made a good stab at a cross disciplinary study that included economic history and got some of it wrong, I would take what you said with a grain of salt, but it would have to be pretty substantial errors for me to write you off. Unless I had a political agenda that needed to find reason to write you off, of course.

Richard Jones

Error number 1, while the specific example doesn't matter very much, actually illustrates a pretty fundamental misunderstanding. An important part of the argument that nanoparticles are in some special way dangerous is that they don't obey the normal laws of classical physics, but they instead have strange and mysterious properties due to quantum mechanics. This argument is deeply flawed (and is no less flawed for being basically the inverse of the argument used by nanoboosters that their products are for the same reason particularly wonderful). The special features of nanoparticles and nanostructured materials are sometimes their high surface to volume ratio (a completely classical effect), sometimes the fact that they can't sustain supercritical cracks (an effect that's been known about for at least 50 years), and only in rather rare cases (i.e. fluorescent quantum dots) from a direct quantum effect.

I would normally accept your point about how some minor errors in one particular specialism of a multidisciplinary report shouldn't cause one to write off the whole report. Except in this case, the specialism is essentially nanotechnology. And nanotechnology is what the report is supposed to be about.

Richard Jones

To continue with error number 2; perhaps, as you say, not an error, but an omission. But what an omission! Why should I believe anything you write about the impact of technology on society if you fail to notice that what must surely be one of the most baleful inventions of the twentieth century actually illustrates the point you are trying to make?

Janessa Ravenwood

Dredging up quotes from me on other sites? No problem, I stand by my statement. I don’t like being a normal (and mortal) human, sue me. If other people do, good for them, none of my business. So despite your attempt to twist it into a misanthropic stance on my part, no dice.

You also neglect to quote it in context - as a comment on an article about whether it would be advisable to upgrade Homo Sapiens to Homo Syntheticus and whether or not such a person would still be considered human. My comment reflects the fact I don't care about whether the label "human” still applied or not as I was certainly in the market for such a procedure.

If these are the tactics you’re reduced to I think I can confidently state we have nothing to fear from your side.

jim moore

"Nano is such a source of power, there is zero reason to believe that it will not be used to amass further power at the expense of people generally." --Antinano

I think this is a very good point. CRN has thought about this and they have proposed something like this: Use the self-replicating capability of nano-factories to make enough copies to allow everyone on the planet (who wants one) to have one. Along with soft-ware to make a variety things like solar power cells, efficient energy storage cells, water filters, nanotech green houses etc.

What do you propose Antinano?

I for one am coming to agree with CRN;s sense of urgency (especially after the new nasa study on self-replication). MNT has the potential to turn out very badly. What would be a good policy?

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Lots of points to answer here:
1) Mr. Farlops, there's far too much work to be done for any one organization to do it. Our goals are similar to Foresight; our methods are rather different, more or less deliberately, to try to cover more of the space. I'm a Senior Associate of Foresight, but I think CRN is more effective as an independent organization doing different things.

2) AntiNano, you ask some good questions. But when it comes to assertions and interpretations, you need to slow down a bit. You quote us as saying that a human would be defenseless--but you think "if anything we like it"? No! It scares us--that's why we're doing CRN!

Also, you may want to use sources other than ETC. It's true I have disagreed with ETC's reporting, both style and content. There's a good reason for that. When writing about nanoparticles, there's no reason other than rhetoric to mention gray goo--but ETC does. And their claim that Sequoia dumped nanoparticles on the ground is at least questionable--Sequoia says they didn't, and the chemicals they used to create a nano-structured matrix (like making jello) were disclosed to the people involved. I haven't verified this claim with independent sources, but it sounds likely, and ETC's reporting of the event was certainly biased.

More later, maybe...


Chris Phoenix, CRN

Oh, yes... on the question of what I said in China: I gave a talk on "Advanced Nanotechnology and Human Rights." I'm told there were some government people in the audience. I talked about the dangerously powerful aspects of molecular manufacturing, saying that I didn't trust any current government to administer them well. I did not mention the Chinese government specifically--that would have been rude--but the message should have been clear.


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