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« Promoting Responsible Climate Policy | Main | The Unreasonable Man »

June 14, 2008


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Dan S

First, thanks for you response to my comment. I didn’t expect such extended answer. I understand your arguments, but I can’t agree.

Sorry for the long comment but I feel that subject is important enough to warrant more discussion. (Also, please forgive my poor grammatical constructs since English is not my first language).

>>it appears we have been mostly successful in achieving the first two points above: a) feasibility and b) disruption.

Actually, you managed to convince yourself that MNT is feasible and potentially disruptive. Majority of scientific community is not convinced (let alone general public). The survey you referenced in status report “We’re gratified that the public at large seems…” is not specifically relevant to MNT and has problems on its own. The think clearly needed is a new survey with MNT-specific questions. With large sample size and statistically significant results. Have we seen such a survey conducted by CRN? No. (We have seen crippled climate-change survey instead). So much about feasibility and disruption.

>But where we've been less successful is in garnering agreement about the imminence of the technology's likely arrival, and the consequent urgency for preparation…technical work toward achieving molecular manufacturing is not progressing as fast as we were originally concerned that it might.

Again where is the conclusive evidence? Where is detailed *up-to-date* (not three years old!) analysis of progress toward MNT? Continuous monitoring and analyzing of such progress should be major part of CRN work. Little of this work is reflected on this blog however.

For example, Nanofactory collaboration website says that “Calibration runs have already begun on newly-acquired scanning probe equipment that will be used by our experimentalist participants in an attempt to build the first DMS tooltip using one of our proposed DMS reaction sequences”. What does that says about urgency or imminence? Could success of these experiments lead to massive increase in funding of MNT-related research, making situation more urgent?

The main goal of CRN is formulated as “raise awareness of the benefits, the dangers, and the possibilities for responsible use of advanced nanotechnology”. So, go raise my awareness about recent developments in these issues. If I wanted to read about dangers and benefits of global warming, I’d go to the blog of some Climatologist.

Next, you tend to treat MNT as a kind of coming natural disaster. If there exist enormous benefits that could potentially save hundred millions lives, the most responsible action is to promote the fastest possible safe MNT development strategy. (Yes, I understand that it is hard to promote benefits and prepare for dangers simultaneously. Still, the question holds).

Finally, my impression is that the overall quality of CRN work is somehow decreased over past two years. Lack of people capable of doing thorough technical analysis might have its role in this decay (CRN looks half-winged without its Director of Research). But the real cause of all this change is the lack of development dynamics. Slow progress toward MNT, lack of new ideas in the area of its safe administration and overall deficit in new stimuli (lack of opponents?) causes stagnation in CRN and slow drift of attention focus.

Looks like we need some kind of competing organization with same (or maybe opposite) goals. The completion with, say, “Center for UnResponsinble Nanotechnology” might stimulate progress and keep CRN leaders in a good working shape.


Dan S, I disagree that CRN treats MNT as a "coming natural disaster". I find CRN blog posts very thorough in considering good and bad points of progress toward MNT. I think the Task Force Scenario Project did consider beneficial as well as harmful consequences of MNT. I fail to see how a group considering unresponsible uses of MNT could help.

Considering that global climate change is currently a pressing problem around the world, it seems that considering possible uses nanotechnology to correct dire situations is a good idea.

jim moore

In response to Dan S
"Slow progress toward MNT, lack of new ideas in the area of its safe administration and overall deficit in new stimuli (lack of opponents?) causes stagnation in CRN and slow drift of attention focus."

I largely agree, perhaps we can change CRN into CDRN - Center for the Design of Responsible Nano-factories. In its new strategy for control the focus shifts from trying to implement an international treaty governing nano-factories to designing a nano-fabrication system that minimizes the dangers and maximizes the benefits.

Larry Lessing has pointed out that software code can been seen as a kind of law. I think that its a bit more general, technological design can deeply influence individual and social behavior. Therefore the design of nano fabrication systems is the best "fulcrum" from which a relatively small group of people can exert maximum impact.

As of right now I think that the single most important aspect of a responsible design is to split the process in two. At centralized locations use nano-fabrication techniques to make reusable micron scale parts. Then at home use a system that can assemble and disassemble the micron scale parts into an ever widening array of human scale products.

By using "cradle to cradle" design we minimize the ecological impact.
From a design standpoint freedom is maximized because many nano fabrication techniques can be used not just MNT.
Form a security standpoint because you have to get your reusable parts from someone else traceability is part of the system.

John B

Actually, my first reaction to Mike's post was, "Where's the rest of CRNano? Is it just Mike now?"

Regarding the rest of y'all's point, however, I would say that CRN has drunk their own coolaid for quite some time now. They have done some useful work - starting to bring out various problems via public (or mostly public) discussions with a very few other points of view/researchers, and at least putting out a partial list of some of the problems various forms of nanofacture may bring up.

However, they haven't published anything that's been peer reviewed - please, do correct me if I'm wrong here! - which limits their effectiveness in the halls of academia. They've briefed a whole lot of folks in different venues around the globe, but they (in the slides I've seen) maintain their own position regardless of the aforementioned discussions/disagreements/disputes. (Interesting that one could use the not-necessarily-relevant quote of the week here, if one should so choose...)

I like Jim Moore's idea above, a "CDRN" makes a lot of sense, but I would suggest that the underlying science is not yet in place. Perhaps a "Center for Preparing Legislative Response to Nanotechnology" or a "Center for Nanotechnology-Affected Economics" might be somewhat more achievable alternatives.

-John B

Chris Phoenix

Actually, we did produce two peer-reviewed papers. One is the Primitive Nanofactory paper. The other is the one Eric Drexler co-authored with me, explaining why accidental grey goo is not a major concern.

Both are pointed to from CRN's papers page:


Dan S.

To MCV: "I find CRN blog posts very thorough in considering good and bad points of progress toward MNT"

I read every single one CRN blog entry for last three years and carefully studied materials available at their website. It’s clear that initially they tried to promote MNT development while actively searching for a way to avoid associated dangers. Recently CRN works acquired different attitude, something like “We are not going to promote MNT development. We are not trying to predict when it will be developed. Instead we are trying to predict social, economic and environmental conditions that will exist at that (undefined!) future point. Based on this prediction we will identify problems that could arise and then start preparing for them”. For me this does not looks like a good strategy.

To Jim Moore: "perhaps we can change CRN into CDRN - Center for the Design of Responsible Nano-factories"
I fully agree

To John B. :

"…I would suggest that the underlying science is not yet in place."

It seems likely that all fundamental science needed is here. A lot of research is still required, but this kind of science will never be here without direct research in MNT. It is time to start promoting such efforts. A few successful experiments could do more for public recognition of MNT than hundreds of studies devoted to relationship between global warming and MNT development.

jim moore

Does this mean your sabitical is over?

If so welcome back.

Jamais Cascio

Without speaking for Mike, who is still traveling, I can say that *some* of the apparent change in direction for CRN -- away from direct advocacy of MNT and hard predictions, towards a more systemic perspective of how developments surrounding MNT interact with other issues -- may come from my conversations with Mike (and Chris, while he was still active). I hasten to add that I'm not taking credit for anything, but will accept any blame that people want to toss my way.

The fact of the matter is that the development of productive nanotechnologies isn't happening in a vacuum, and in order to chart out the path for responsible development (of nanofactories or other manifestations of the technology), we have to understand what kinds of drivers will push for and militate against its development and deployment. Moreover, since we're looking at a likely decade or more before we see early productive nanotech systems, we can't just look at where people are *now*, we have to look at what kinds of issues will shape the course of development. That means geopolitics, that means parallel technologies (such as fabbing), and (like it or not) that means global warming.

Right now, Mike is the only full-time member of CRN. Chris remains on sabbatical, and I have ongoing projects with the Institute for the Future and other organizations demanding my time. This means that CRN's blog inevitably reflects Mike's interests and concerns more than other (past and present) contributors.

With Mike on the road, he can't step in and defend himself here at the moment. I would expect, however, that he would welcome constructive suggestions about how CRN can evolve in the coming months and years.

jim moore

I agree that the development of productive nano-systems will not happen in a vacuum and thinking about how climate change, geopolitics, the wireless internet and other aspects of the environment will effect its development is useful, but the goal of Responsible nano factories is to a degree independent of these other drivers. We are not just trying to just predict what will happen we want to shape what is going to happen.

Thinking about what a responsible nano factory would be like requires us to make value judgments. These values need to shape the goals for productive nano systems and should be explicitly used to evaluate different designs for nano-factories.
Here are my goals for nano factories
1) greatly reduce the ecological impact of mankind
2) greatly increase the quality of life for mankind
3) minimize the threat from small groups and governments empowered by nano factories.

For example over the last five years we have talked about two very different types of nano factories. One type would use commonly available raw materials (sunlight and CO2) and process them into finished products. The other would assemble (and disassemble) sophisticated pre made building blocks into finished products. Base on the goals stated the first design is far less responsible. And that is true regardless of what else is happening in the world.

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