Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Nanobots are Back

The Business section of today's New York Times has an interesting article about IBM researchers who are "trying to put new zip into Moore's Law." Why interesting? Because:

1. Like most nano coverage in the NYT, it's not in the Science section but presented as business...which comports with my view that the NNI is not so much about science policy as it is industrial policy.

2. It points out, yet again, the key place that nanoelectronics has in the overall schema of nanotech.

3. For a historian (me) it's full of lots of references to the bugaboo of technological determinism - "Chips are almost ubiquitous and, where they're not, they probably will be soon."

4. Finally, at the articles end, it quotes a "professor of nanoelectronics" from SUNY-Albany who says that self-assembling nanotechnology (the focus of the article) will create better electronics as well as self-assembled "nanobots that can float in our bloodstreams, searching for cancerous cells that the bots will then eliminate."

Ah, the nanobots. No matter how hard government policy makers, scientists, and engineers try to distance themselves from the futuristic 1980s version of nanotech, it keeps coming back (like parachute pants). The shadow of Eric Drexler continues to loom large over all things nano. In order to understand public reactions, fears, and hopes for nano, this must be acknowledged, understood and, if not believed, then respected.

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