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The Nanotechnology Revolution

The Nanotechnology Revolution

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Published by Baric

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Categories:Types, Research, Science
Published by: Baric on May 06, 2011
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial


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Unbounding the Future:the Nanotechnology Revolution 
Eric Drexler and Chris Peterson, with Gayle PergamitWilliam Morrow and Company, Inc.New York © 1991 by K. Eric Drexler, Chris Peterson, and Gayle Pergamit. All rights reserved.
by Stewart Brand 
 Nanotechnology. The science is good, the engineering is feasible, the paths of approach aremany, the consequences are revolutionary-times-revolutionary, and the schedule is: in our lifetimes.But what?No one knows but what. That's why a book like this is crucial
molecular engineering andthe routine transformation of matter arrives. The technology will arrive piecemeal and prominently butthe consequences will arrive at a larger scale and often invisibly.Perspective from within a bursting revolution is always a problem because the long view isobscured by compelling immediacies and the sudden traffic of people new to the subject, some seizingopportunity, some viewing with alarm. Both optimists and pessimists about new technologies arenotorious for their tunnel vision.The temptation always is to focus on a single point of departure or a single feared or desired goal.Sample point of departure: What if we can make anything out of diamond? Sample feared/desired goal:What if molecular-scale medicine lets people live for centuries?We're not accustomed to asking, What would a world be like where many such things areoccurring? Nor do we ask, What
such a world be like?The first word that comes to mind is
. The second is
. Nanotechnologybreakthroughs are likely to be self-accelerating and self-proliferating, much as information technologyadvances have been for the past several decades (and will continue to be, especially as nanotech kicksin). We could get a seething texture of constant innovation and surprise, with desired results andunexpected side-effects colliding in all directions.How do you have a careful carnival?
Unbounding the Future
spells out some of the answer.I've been watching the development of Eric Drexler's ideas since 1975, when he was an MITundergraduate working on space technologies (space settlements, mass drivers, and solar sailing).Where I was watching from was the "back-to-basics" world of the
Whole Earth Catalog
publications,which I edited at the time. In that enclave of environmentalists and world-savers one of our dirty wordswas
. A technofix was deemed always bad because it was a shortcut–an overly focuseddirecting of high tech at a problem with no concern for new and possibly worse problems that thesolution might create.But some technofixes, we began to notice, had the property of changing human perspective in ahealthy way. Personal computers empowered individuals and took away centralized control of communication technology. Space satellites–at first rejected by environmentalists–proved to beinvaluable environmental surveillance tools, and their images of Earth from space became an engine of the ecology movement.I think nanotechnology also is a perspective shifter. It is a set of technologies so fundamental asto amount to a whole new domain of back to basics. We must rethink the uses of materials and tools inour lives and civilizations.
Eric showed himself able to think on that scale with his 1986 book,
 Engines of Creation.
In it heproposed that the potential chaos and hazard of nanotech revolutions required serious anticipatorydebate, and for an initial forum he and his wife Chris Peterson set up the Foresight Institute. I wrote toForesight for literature and soon found myself on its board of advisers.From that vantage point I watched the growing technical challenges to the plausibility of nanotechnology (I also encouraged a few) as people began to take the prospects seriously. The easychallenges were refuted politely. The hard ones changed and improved the body of ideas. None shot itdown. Yet.I also watched the increasing reports from the various technical disciplines of research clearlyheaded toward nanotech capabilities, mostly by people who had no awareness of each other. I urgedEric and Chris to assemble them at a conference. The First Foresight Conference on Nanotechnologytook place in 1989 at Stanford University with a good mix of technical and cultural issues addressed.That convergence quickened the pace of anticipation and research. This book now takes an admirablenext step.As I've learned from the Global Business Network, where I work part-time helping multinationalcorporations think about their future, all futurists soon discover that correct prediction is impossible.And forcing the future in a desired direction is also impossible. What does that leave forethought to do?One of the most valuable tools has proved to be what is called scenario planning in which dramatic,divergent stories of relevant futures are spun out. Divergent strategies to handle them are proposed, andthe scenarios and strategies are played against each other until the scenarios are coherent, plausible,surprising, insightful, and checkable against real events as they unfold. "Robust" (adaptable) strategiesare supposed to emerge from the process.This book delivers a rich array of micro-scenarios of nanotechnology at work, some thrilling,some terrifying, all compelling. Probably none represent exactly what will happen, but in aggregatethey give a deep sense of the kind of thing that will happen. Strategies of how to stay ahead of theprocess are proposed, but the ultimate responsibility for the wholesome use and development of nanotechnology falls on every person aware of it. That now includes you.–Stewart Brand

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