SciAm: nano and cryonics

From: Robert J. Bradbury (
Date: Fri Aug 17 2001 - 13:44:29 MDT

Attached below is my letter to Scientific American
regarding some of the errors in the Whitesides article.

I've finally put a number on how much blood based
on the current world population and the U.S. death
rates. Gradual declines in the death rate will probably
be offset by population increases and the fact that some
people may not choose lifespan extension in the "diamond
age" is probably balanced by a much higher death rate
in 3rd world countries at this time. So its probably
a pretty good ballpark number.

Harvey, if you read this, I think it provides a good
example of how to pick your battles. I'll probably
convert this to hypertext, add the links and put
it in my Critiques section. Then it will get Googled
and in the future we just point people at it when
they attempt to drag the Whitesides article up as
a proof against MNT. What we need is an Extropian
Bingo Code for the arguments. That way when someone says
"you can't use nanobots to extend the human lifespan
because Whitesides says they will be unable to navigate
in the body", we say B3, meaning of course that you
need to go read Nanomedicine Section 9.4 and come
back when you can engage in a reasonable discussion.
Of course then we would look quite a bit more cultish
than we already do...

Oh, and I did send a copy to Whitesides so it will be
interesting to see if it gets any response.

(There has to be some poetic justice in life when the
Harvard drop-outs get to drag the Harvard professor's
arguments through the mud. :-))


Dear Sirs,

I would like to call your attention to some errors in your
recent article by George Whitesides regarding nanotechnology.

First, Dr. Whitesides states,
 "The flagellar motor does not act by using electric current
  to generate moving magnetic fields; instead it uses the
  decomposition of ATP to cause changes in the shape of the
  molecules that, when combined with a sophisticated molecular
  ratchet, makes the protein shaft revolve."

Unfortunately this is incorrect. As [1, pgs 447-450, 2] document,
the flagellum is a hydrogen ion driven motor. It only uses
ATP to perform its protein export functions.

Second, Dr. Whitesides attempts to make the case against
nanosubmarines as "ships approximately 100 nanometers in scale",
perhaps because the National Science Foundation is defining
"nanotechnology" at that scale. To the best of my knowledge
no one who is serious about the feasibility of molecular
nanotechnology has ever suggested that nanobots would be
that size. People who are familiar with the literature know
that 100 nm is the size of a nanoassembler arm [3, pg 401 &
4, pg 14] and the existant serious design studies for
nanobots [5,6,7] describe them as ~1 micron in size, approximately
the same size as a typical bacteria or mitochondria.
That would be 1000 times the volume and mass of the
nanosubmarines that Dr. Whitesides imagines.

Finally, his arguments regarding the locomotion, detection abilities
and energy sources for nanobots demonstrate a lack of knowledge
of the large body of work that has been done on such topics [8].

While I could write a more extended critique, I think my
point is clear. If Scientific American wants a "scientific"
critique of the applications of molecular nanotechnology
they should seek out writers who have read the literature.
The editors should also have articles containing information
regarding microbiology or medicine reviewed by experts
in those fields, particularly when they are written by
someone whose primary expertise is chemistry. An essay
providing some other examples of why it is dangerous
to place too high a value on scientists speaking outside
their areas of expertise may be found in [9].

Scientific American should resist attempts to fan the
animosities between the believers and disbelievers in
molecular nanotechnology. Why? Because if, and I realize
its a big if, the believers happen to be right, and the
misconstructed arguments of the disbelievers happen to
be wrong, the costs in premature deaths due to delays in
the development of the full vision outlined by Drexler [10]
are in excess of 53 million human lives -- *each* year.
That is greater than the combined military and civilian
losses in all of World War II. Think about that.

Robert Bradbury
President, Aeiveos Corporation

1. S. L. Wolfe, Molecular and Cellular Biology, Wadsworth (1993).
2. R. M. Macnab,
3. K. E. Drexler, Nanosystems, Wiley-Interscience (1992), pg 401.
4. K. E. Drexler, "Introduction to Nanotechnology", in Prospects
    in Nanotechnology: Towards Molecular Manufacturing; Proceedings
    of the First General Conference on Nanotechnology: Development,
    Applications, and Opportunities, M. Krummenacker & James Lewis
    (eds.), John Wiley & Sons (1995).
5. R. A. Freitas Jr, "Respirocytes: A Mechanical Artificial Red
    Cell: Exploratory Design in Medical Nanotechnology" (1996).
6. R. A. Freitas Jr, "Clottocytes: Artificial Mechanical Platelets"
    (June 2000)
7. R. A. Freitas Jr, "Microbivores: Artificial Mechanical Phagocytes
    using Digest and Discharge Protocol" (March 2001).
8. R. A. Freitas Jr, "Nanomedicine: Volume I", Landes Bioscience (1999).
9. R. J. Bradbury, "When Scientists Overextend Themselves", (January, 2001)
10. K. E. Drexler, Engines of Creation, Anchor (1986)

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b30 : Fri Oct 12 2001 - 14:40:10 MDT