Amidst all the debate over nanoparticle toxicity, genetically modified organisms, nanotech and the poor, the pros/cons concerning molecular manufacturing, etc. -- it's good to read some truly good news about technology.
Researchers and volunteers around the world are taking early steps toward a complex but straightforward technological goal: to use electrical signals from the brain as instructions to computers and other machines, allowing paralyzed people to communicate, move around and control their environment literally without moving a muscle.
Most dramatically, that could help "locked-in" patients -- those who've lost all muscle movement because of conditions like Lou Gehrig's disease or brainstem strokes.
This is really wonderful. It's an application of research and development being put to direct use in improving lives.
* A quadriplegic man in Massachusetts has shown he can change TV channels, turn room lights on and off, open and close a robotic hand and sort through messages in a mock e-mail program.
* Seven paralyzed patients near Stuttgart, Germany, have been surfing the Internet and writing letters to friends from their homes.
* At a lab in Switzerland, two healthy volunteers learned to steer a 2-inch, two-wheeled robot -- sort of like a tiny wheelchair -- through a dollhouse-sized floor plan.
There are many such stories, perhaps not as dramatic and rarely making headlines -- but technology does do good things for people today and can do much more in the future.
But it is because of all the positive results that can happen -- the diseases stopped, the undernourished fed, the illiterate made literate -- that we say general-purpose molecular manufacturing should be developed as soon as it possibly can, in a safe and responsible way.
It is a great challenge, both technological and political, to do it right. It will require participation of far-thinking and progressive people from all over the world, including scientists, engineers, economists, sociologists, ecologists, ethicists, and many more.
This is a rare opportunity, and we must not pass it up.