"Drexlerian" as an epithet

From: Peter C. McCluskey (pcm@rahul.net)
Date: Mon Feb 18 2002 - 10:53:23 MST

 hal@finney.org (hal@finney.org) writes:
>I have felt for some time that cryonics was a lead weight dragging down
>acceptance of Drexlerian nanotech. My theory is that people have an
>overwhelmingly negative emotional reaction to cryonics, in part because
>it implies that the death of their loved ones was preventable, and this
>carries over to any technology which would seem to make cryonics credible.

 I don't get this impression at all. To the limited extent that investors
are noticing Drexlerian nanotech, they don't seem to connect it with
cryonics beyond noticing that both require long-term forecasts to determine
their value. Investors have been pretty consistent about distinguishing
between long-term research projects and projects that can become commercial
products within a few years. The best explanation I can come up with for
their motives is a desire not to repeat the kind of mistakes they made
at the height of the internet bubble - betting on half-baked forecasts
of what companies would be earning five to ten years into the future.
(People who made those kinds of bets on the internet around 1995 are doing
quite well, and I haven't seen any speculation in nanotech stocks that
rivals the Netscape IPO yet. But most investors remember the peak better
than they remember 1995, probably because most of them didn't know about
the internet in 1995 and have some reason to think they aren't wise enough
to get in at the very start of a big trend).

>But maybe that was premature. We are seeing a backlash, a rearguard
>fighting action against the original vision of nanotech. Opponents are
>trying to build a firewall against Drexlerian mechanosynthesis, drawing a
>distinction between their prosaic nanotech and Drexler's far-out visions.

 "Fighting action" is an exaggeration. Except for a couple of Nobel prize
winners whose careers would seem less important if Drexler's vision was
realized soon, the main reaction is more like "we can't see that far into
the future". Zyvex apparently hasn't had any trouble getting funding for its
MEMS research (from a combination of government and industry sources) while
saying they're following Drexler's vision (although they seem to be putting
increasing emphasis on non-Drexlerian justifications for their research).

>I think Foresight needs to go back to its roots and shore up the
>foundations. It's not enough to have "nanotechnology" initiatives showing
>up everywhere. Few of those efforts are making significant progress
>towards Drexler's machine-based models. Foresight needs to remind

 I would certainly like Foresight to criticise nanohype in a more clear
and public manner than it has been doing. But doing so effectively would
drive away some of their senior associates (such as Josh Wolfe) and create
problems with their running of technical conferences that are dominated by
researchers who aren't interested in Drexlerian nanotech. I.e. they appear
to have a nontrivial financial incentive to stick to their current course.
 What can we do about that? Offer to increase our donations to Foresight
if they piss off the short-sighted nanotechnologists? I doubt we're willing
to offer enough money for that. Threaten to switch a competing organization?
ExI is sort of a competitor that farsighted senior associates can think of
as an alternative to Foresight, but I don't know how to make it into a
succesful enough organization that I could dismiss Foresight as unimportant.

>people that there is more to nanotech than making ultra-fine powders
>for smoother paint. We have to keep our eye on the prize, a technology
>which can utterly revolutionize every aspect of the world. If research
>is not moving us towards that goal, it should not receive funding under
>nanotech grants, even if it happens to involve little tiny pieces.

 Foresight hasn't exactly been praising the government for spending
it's research money wisely, although it tends to direct what few comments
it makes towards hardcore senior associates rather than towards the public.

Peter McCluskey          | Free Jon Johansen!
http://www.rahul.net/pcm | 

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