Well, that's a nice welcome-back-to-work for you.
Two days into my new/old job, and I hear from Mike that there's a nano video going viral. It's hosted, no surprise, by none other than Wired, which also published Bill Joy's anti-nano article in 2000. Nanotechnologists take note: Wired wants to destroy your funding.
I wish I thought that videos like this would raise public awareness of the implications of molecular manufacturing. But I don't. This video is not just about destructive nano - it is a destructive video about nano.
So what's wrong with the video? Like all good lies, it contains grains of truth. Here are a few of the half-truths:
- "Because it takes so many of these microscopic machines to do large-scale work, self-replicating nanobots will be pretty common in laboratories."
It is true that it takes many small machines to do large-scale work. The lie is that these machines will be free-floating and self-replicating, rather than being fastened in place like the conveyor belts and drill presses in a factory.
- "Rather than replicating using the rarest materials, program the nanobot to use the commonest."
It is true that molecular manufacturing will provide lots of design flexibility. The lie is that machines can simply be programmed to change their fundamental construction: it's like saying "program the tree to grow on gasoline." More accurate would be "Design a whole new nanobot from scratch, because nothing like it will exist."
- The overall message of the movie is that molecular manufacturing is powerful enough to be extremely scary.
It is true that molecular manufacturing will be immensely powerful and easy to misuse. The lie is that grey goo is the biggest danger. Deliberate institutional misuse of the products will generate more perilous and more urgent threats, which will be more difficult to prepare for.
At least I can hope that, nine years after Bill Joy's article scared nano researchers into claiming that molecular manufacturing was impossible, the researchers will react a little more calmly and reasonably this time. CRN has been explaining the realities of grey goo for years, and I co-authored a paper, "Safe Exponential Manufacturing," with Eric Drexler in 2004 on the topic.
While this video may scare the uninformed, perhaps the actual discussion of molecular manufacturing will emerge stronger and more sensible than before. I welcome your suggestions and actions toward this goal.
(Edit: I originally said Joy's article was in 2001)