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« Hype, Part 2 | Main | Hype, Part 4 »

June 19, 2005


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Kevin McCarrell

Ok, we get it. Government officials involved with nanotechnology are guilty of hype. Their jobs (not to mention the jobs of those who run this website) are dependent upon people believing that nanotechnology will be the world's savior.

All of the rhetoric and all of the "hype" that has been generated might come true in the future. But why don't we focus on some near-term problems for the moment, such as workers exposure to nano-particles. Despite the fact that such topics are not nearly as fun to talk about as grey goo, they pose a much more immediate threat and should receive the majority of the nano-world's focus.

Mike Treder, CRN


Read Part 4, including the links, and I think you'll see that CRN is not particularly concerned about "grey goo," that we're not aiming to have "fun" here, and that a predominant focus on nano-particles is short-sighted and dangerous.

Worker exposure, waste runoff, and other immediate issues are serious and should be studied. We endorse that. What we oppose is focusing too much on the near future and not looking ahead far enough (see my essay, "Turn on the Nanotech High Beams," at http://futurebrief.com/miketrederbeams001.asp ).

For the time being, we can forget about "grey goo." But it's urgent that we gain a better understanding of nano-fueled arms race risks, concentration of unprecedented financial and military power, potential environmental damage caused by overproduction of cheap products, ill-considered massive engineering projects with unforeseen disastrous consequences, social disruption from ubiquitous intrusive surveillance, and economic upheavals from the nearly overnight collapse of numerous industries.

These concerns are not hype. But they are deeply troubling and, perhaps for that reason, have almost entirely been ignored. That is what CRN is trying to correct.

Brian Wang

How much effort should be expended on nano-particles ? How would CR nano be able to cover nano-particles better than the ETC group and government agencies like the EPA and FDA ?

The nano-particle problem seems to be well within the regulatory capacity and framework that created to deal with product, industrial and environmental safety.

Would the world have been better if Edison had focused on making electrical socket safety instead of the light bulb or phonograph ?

Would the world have bought cars from Henry Ford that were limited to a safer driving speed of 20 mph or would they have bought their cars from someone else ?

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Kevin, nanoparticles already do receive the majority of nano-focus--other groups are doing that. And that's fine. But nanoparticles shouldn't receive all of it. CRN is focusing on what most groups are (so far) ignoring: the longer-term consequences of rapidly developed revolutionary molecular manufacturing.

Molecular manufacturing studies have often been accused of excessive hype. Meanwhile, other nanotech boosters, while denying MM, have touted positive consequences so extreme that some of them can only be achieved through MM. That's inconsistent.

Worse, by talking about the positive consequences without any acknowledgement of the source (MM), or any acknowledgement of possible negative consequences of MM (of which there are many), they are short-circuiting much-needed policy discussion.

CRN believes that this is a dangerous situation--significantly more dangerous, in the long run, than nanoparticles.


Kevin McCarrell

Didn't mean to start a firestorm there. I understand that CRN's mission is to promote policy discussion of MM (to paraphrase), and that is a worthwhile goal and may turn out to be extremely important (assuming that MM does in fact come to its full fruition). Leaving near-term goals to others is perfectly fine, although it seems that the Foresight Institute (excuse me, the Foresight Nanotech Institute) might disagree these days.

However, I whole-heartedly disagree that "nanoparticles already do receive the majority of nano-focus." Or at least not the risks of nanoparticles. See Vicki Colvin's essay "Responsible Nanotechnology: Looking Beyond the Good News" in which she writes that in all of the nanotechnology literature reviewed, they found "no prior research in developing nanomaerials risk assessment models and no toxicology studies devoted to synthetic nanomaterials." While the essay is three years old, I know that Dr. Colvin has not changed her opinion that a LOT more research needs to be done on synthetic nanomaterials. There's been a good bit of extrapolating from research on ultrafine particles, but such extrapolation might be dangerous. Much more research needs to be done on nanoparticles, and it makes it difficult when people start worrying about the risks of MM which could be many, many years away (I realize that this is an unpopular view on this website). I apologize for throwing the term "grey goo" around so loosely, and I know that's a touchy subject around here. I did not mean to imply that CRN was preaching the "doom and gloom grey goo is coming" sermon. And educating people that grey goo is not a likely scenario is a worthy goal of CRN. It is certainly not CRN's fault that "Prey" and grey goo have captured the public's (at leat the part of the public that cares about nano) imagination. Unfortunately, such things have made it more difficult to have a serious discussion about the risks of nanoparticles.

I think it is completely fair for MM proponents to be upset. The NNI was created by pitching the dreams of MM to Congress, and yet the "mainstream" nanotechnology folks (a.k.a. those concerned with commercial applications that will make money in the near-term) lobbied their way into the pockets of Congress and ran away with all of the money.

All I was trying to point out in my original post is that the barrage of examples that are being thrown out during this "hype" series is a bit excessive. Your criticism is valid, these government officials are using MM rhetoric without mentioning MM. They promote ending world hunger, but call you crazy when you say MM could be the key to do so. But that's what politicians do. I don't need five days worth of examples.

Sorry, next time I'll just point my browser elsewhere instead of complaining about the content on the website. I was just feeling a bit cranky yesterday.

Mike Treder, CRN

No problem, Kevin. We encourage questions, opinions, criticism, and courteous discussion.

Kevin McCarrell

To Brian Wang:

My left pinky-toe could do a better job covering nano-particles than ETC Group, the EPA, and the FDA. However, I wasn't suggesting that CRN switch their focus from long-term to short-term. My suggestion is simply that they realize that people are much more interested in the short-term. While politicians might pose Nanotechnology as the key to ending the world's woes, when it comes to spending money, people expect to see fast results. That is why politicians turn their backs on people like CRN. They don't want to be viewed as having their head up in the clouds daydreaming.

By the way, if you are a MM or MNT proponent, I wouldn't be praising ETC Group. If they want a moratorium on nanoparticle production so that the risks can be studied first, what do you think they would have to say about MM or MNT research, if anybody were to listen to what they had to say anyway?

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