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The Nanowars

Glenn Reynolds has an article on the rapidly escalating Nano-War of Words. The technological possibilities outlined 25 years ago by Dr. Eric Drexler have the poor spin doctors (like Mr. Modzelewski) and a number of other Johnny-come-lately’s in the science world all bent out of shape.

It is, after all, not Dr Drexler’s fault lesser minds are jealous he got there first and rightfully will have his name in the history books as the Father of Nanotechnology. Whether he is correct in detail or not is irrelevant. The fact his detractors will not even debate him without veering off into ad-hominem attacks rather than meet him fairly on the field of equations shows the serious weakness of their position.

I will make no absolute claim that a Drexler Assember/Disassembler is buildable. Neither will I accept claims backed up by bluster and lack of experiment that such is impossible.

And yes, I do know Eric. Quite well in fact.


Dr. Eric Drexler (center) with Dr. Peter Vijk (left) at
the May 2003 National Space Society conference in San Jose, California
Photo: Copyright Dale M. Amon, all rights reserved
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6 comments to The Nanowars

  • Doug Collins

    The entrance of the government into nanotechnology development, while probably unavoidable, may or may not be the wonderful thing that Reynolds appears to find it. I can’t help but see a similarity to the NASA/Scaled Composites contrast. Perhaps Scaled Composites could achieve what it has only because of the ground broken over the last four decades by NASA. Or perhaps someone else would have done this sooner without the government institutionaliztion of space technology and its funding. I honestly can’t draw a conclusion, though my doubts are obvious.

    Having the power to dole out research funds also means having the power to determine what avenues of research are legit and which are not. I suspect that the paradigms of Thomas Kuhn may just be the mask on the face of research funding politics rather than the effect of a scientific ‘culture’. For example, when the continental drift revolution occurred in geology – a field with comparatively little outside funding- there was none of the clash of old and new paradigms that Kuhn would have predicted.

    The one hopeful difference between nanotechnology and space technology is that the means for making ground breaking advances in nanotech may be much cheaper and accessible. It seems to be at the stage of Goddard’s rockets right now, so the road ahead may curve in surprising directions. Those who are denied funding may still be able to proceed on their own, perhaps the better for their enforced independence.

  • don’t forget the Feynman contribution to kick-starting nanoscience

  • Guy Herbert

    I refer you to one of Clarke’s laws: “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

    I have an intuition that a general molecular assembler/disassembler is going to run into energetic problems. But until someone proves my conjecture, I’m perfectly prepared to believe it possible–if rather a long way off.

  • Guy Herbert

    I refer you to one of Clarke’s laws: “When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.”

    I have an intuition that a general molecular assembler/disassembler is going to run into energetic and/or informational problems. But until someone shows where those problems are, I’m perfectly prepared to believe it possible–if rather a long way off.

  • >And yes, I do know Eric. Quite well in fact.

    Given that you are thanked in the acknowledgements section of Engines of Creation I had suspected this was so. I was planning to ask you about it at some future Samizdata party.

  • For those who haven’t read Engines of Creation(Link), you can see mention of Dale in the Acknowledgements section (Link of the online version (Link) (which I published several years ago).