Ideologies and nanotechnology

There are many debates about nanotechnology; what it is, what it will make possible, and what its dangers might be. On one level these may seem to be very technical in nature. So a question about whether a Drexler style assembler is technically feasible can rapidly descend into details of surface chemistry, while issues about the possible toxicity of carbon nanotubes turn on the procedures for reliable toxicological screening. But it’s at least arguable that the focus on the technical obscures the real causes of the arguments, which are actually based on clashes of ideology. We supposedly live in a non-ideological age, so what are the ideological divisions that underly debates about nanotechnology? I suggest, for a start, these four ideological positions, each of which implies a very different attitude towards nanotechnology.

  • Transhuman. Transhumanists look forward to a time in which technology allows humanity to transcend its current physical and mental limits. Radical nanotechnologies are essential to the fulfillment of this vision, so the attitude of transhumanists to nanotechnology in its most radical, Drexlerian form, is that it is not only inevitable but morally mandated.
  • Transglobal. Those who accept the current neo-liberal, globalising consensus look to new technologies as a driver for further economic growth. Nanotechnology is expected to lead to changes which may be disruptive to individual business sectors, but which probably won’t fundamentally change global socio-economic systems.
  • Deep Green. To radical environmentalists, our current urban, industrial economic system is unsustainable. Technologies are regarded as in large measure responsible for the difficulties we are now in, and a return to more rural, post-industrial, locally based economies is regarded as not only desirable but inevitable. Nanotechnology is, like most new technologies, viewed with deep distrust, as very likely to lead to undesirable and possibly unintended consequences.
  • Bright Green. Another strand of environmentalists share with Deep Greens the conviction that the current socio-economic system is unsustainable, but are confident that new technology and imaginative design will make possible an urban culture with a high standard of living that is sustainable. These people look with enthusiasm to nanotechnology for new sustainable energy systems and decentralised, low waste manufacturing processes.

When one sees a debate about nanotechnology start to get heated, it’s perhaps worth asking what the ideological positions of the debaters are, and whether an apparently technical argument is actually a proxy for an ideological one.

33 thoughts on “Ideologies and nanotechnology”

  1. I’d favour the bright green perspective (as in my latest TR-posting ). In Germany at least two Bundesländer (federal states) are pursuing this aspect of NT actively, Baden-Württemberg und Hessen (see also response from representatives of its Ministry of Economy to my post).

    I’d also say that green NT could be the storyline that NT needs in order to gain more public interest beyond mere curiosity about a “world of small”.

    The transglobal perspective is as sexy as the stereotypic “globalization is good” mantra from free-trade advocats. exactly zero. How this stereotype is viewed in larger parts of the public can be witnessed in the opposition to the upcoming G8 summit in Germany.

    “Bright green”, as you put it, could overcome the possible antagonism of “transglobal” vs. “deep green”. It’s not only an ideology issue but also a communication issue for the NT community.

  2. As is the norm, this latest post sent the crew off to explore. To Niels Boeing, it is going to take days to look through your eyes and get the gist of everything you have found. Fortunate it is, we have recently seconded a living breathing German Translator well versed yet not critical of grammatical miscreants.

    As with all fields of study, there are those who will take the studied stayed course, reticent about trying something new, and too ready if failure looms to be the first to say ‘I told you so’. Then there are those who will push the limits beyond the current scope of knowledge, fantasize about the possibilities, and argue vociferously about their reality. Yet through it all, after the agendas are sated, the rants fallen quiet and everyone has again settled down to the task of doing the real work, progress will be made.

    This said, I suggest it matters not how the progress is labeled, just that there is progress with a clear recognition of the risks involved and the benefits accrued. The bottom line I promote is the advancement of the core literacy in this emerging field, how it fleshes out will be a wonder to see.

  3. The bit I don’t get is how we are supposedly living in a non-ideological age. I thought that was some kind of take off of Fukuyamas “End of history” ideology, which has been demonstrated to be wrong by the real world.

    I think it also worth suggesting that these ideological positions cover people who debate and talk about nanotech and its possibilities. The rest of the population has no ideological position related to nanotech, more a utilitarian one, i.e. “Will it give me more gadgets and allow me to hav more holidays?”.

    I think you’ve covered the main strands that I have seen, although I admit I am not up to speed on things in the nanotech world.

  4. I think the names are not descriptive enough, and I think we will see four more ideological viewpoints in the future of the debate on nano-tech. I see the division as being for or against nanotechnology being used in a particular way.

    Corporate empowerment (trans-global) – Anti-corporate (deep green) split
    Personal transformation (trasns-humanist) – Bio- conservatives
    Social transformation (bright green) – the part existing power structure that would lose power
    Governmental control – human freedom

  5. I am going come straight out and tell you that I am definitely a “trans-globalist” or whatever label you want to affix me with. I consider the other “ideologies” you describe here to be mostly fantasies. Fantasies promugated by people who have never been in business for themselves and, therefor, do not know anything about anything.

    I think the critics of “trans-globalism” suffer from mis-information about what globalization is and who benefits from it.

    Peter Drucker’s comments about globalization reflect best my personal experience. He has written (and my personal experience confirms that he is spot on) that globalization actually empowers small, entrepreneureal firms more than large companies. The reason is that in a non-globalized world, the giant companies still have the foreign exchange and, more importantly, the government connections to operate world-wide. An entrepreneur working out of his home (that is, me) does not. Globalization allows people like me to have access to foreign exchange and to sell all over the world without needed the government connections to do so.

    With globalization, you can have a small company that builds analytical instruments, say AFMs or surface accoustic wave analytizers, and sell those world-wide through a network of independent sales agents. Or, you could be a fashion designer, working out of your home, and job out the manufacture of your designs to India or Sri Lanka. You can become a one or two-person multinational company. I know these things because this is what I do.

    The idea, promugated by the critics, that globalization benefits only large corporations is complete rubbish. Those of you here should understand this intuitively, especially any of you who work in private industry.

  6. Real world experience lends competence and validity to a person’s prognostications. People who lack real world experience includes university professors, most journalists, university students, a large proportion of politicians, and a huge number of bloggers.

    Nevertheless, in a welfare-state democracy, it is best to sample the opinions of as many people who are likely to vote as possible, despite any lack of substantive basis for their opinions.

    I find myself in the transhuman/transglobal/bright green multi-category. An honest polling of persons who have faced the world in multiple capacities of responsibility would likely force an overhaul of your categorisation system.

  7. Umm, Al, you realise your effectively saying that university professors etc live in a fake world, and that business people live in the real one, despite the simple fact that we all live in the same world, its just that we experiece different facets of it.
    I suspect that you would find precious few people who have “faced the world in multiple capacities of responsibility”. Every time I see people trying to divvy the world up this way it reminds me of the bad old days in the 19th century.

  8. Niels, thanks for the link; very interesting and I agree with a lot you say, particularly the need for nanotechnology to find a compelling narrative. Interesting response from the state governments too. I hope Martin’s translator is better than me, though.

    Guthrie, indeed, history didn’t stay ended for very long, did it? I guess what I haven’t discussed is any kind of conservative religious viewpoint. Though to be honest it isn’t clear to me that, barring some issues about human applications of nanobio (i.e. Jim’s bioconserrvatives) , these are likely to have any common position on the rest of nano.

    Kurt, no need to be defensive, as your position after all is the dominant one amongst decision makers and people of influence. You make interesting points about the way corporate economies of scale may be eroding. What may be interesting is the way “bright green” values get co-opted by the global consensus. Speaking parochially, politics in the UK is clearly evolving this way. Gordon Brown, our finance minister, now overwhelmingly likely to become prime minister after Blair, is as globalising as they come, yet pretty much his first campaign announcement is to build a bunch of new eco-towns. Meanwhile its interesting to watch the influence on the Conservatives of their leader’s old school-chum Zac Goldsmith, the man reputed to have shown Prince Charles the first ETC report opposing nanotechnology, and a man as deep green as only someone with a £300m inherited fortune can be.

    Al, as a professor blogger I’m clearly doubly disqualified from knowing anything.

  9. I do not think it is useful to try to broadly categorize any discussion within anything labeled as about nanotechnology with these biases. I think it is like saying that any debate/argument that is about science and technology should be using the same categorizations.

    Instead of trying to using data, facts and experiments to determine the correctness and strength of argument, we should try to dismiss various sides with labels.

    Especially for those who do not understand a technical discussion, do not bother learning the technical details and results or perform research just pick from nerd, suit, treehugger 1 and treehugger 2.

    Transhuman: Radical nanotechnologies are essential to the fulfillment of this vision.

    I do not believe radical nanotech is needed to fulfill a great deal of this vision. It would just make it cheaper and faster and ultimately go further. But it can go a long way without radical nanotech.

    We already have performance enhancement that works. It is just fairly often not safe in the longterm. Steroids work. Elite atheletes can get 5-20% better. So-so athletes can move up to near worldclass.

    Synthetic biology, DNA nanotechnology (both in early forms now), gene therapy (1260 current clinical trials), RNA interference, RNA activation can do plenty relative to what most people are expecting.

    Transferring what is now possible in mice and the lab to humans (over a decade or three). We can re-activate regeneration, radiation resistance, super-charge the immune system, enhance intelligence, strength, endurance, lengthen life span etc… Some of it can happen even sooner.

    With medical tourism if the US does not allow it then go to Thailand or China or India.

    There is BrainGate (invasive) and non-invasive electronic interfaces to the brain. Plus one can get intelligence enhancement now by proper usage of google, wikipedia, online science papers and the internet in general.


    -what do you mean won’t disrupt current socio-economic systems ? Individual business sectors are getting disrupted to a certain extent fairly regularly. that could disrupt the socio-economic system of the people in that business sector. The dot-com bubble burst was pretty disruptive to me for about 1 year or two. Any number of things could trigger a global recession. What qualifies as a disruption to the current socio-economic system ? Something with the impact of the industrial revolution ? Say China and India re-emerge completely with per capita income equal to the leading countries of the world. Do you mean the over turning of capitalism? I personally do not think that happens even with molecular nanotechnology.

    Deep Green. To radical environmentalists… Many are mis-informed and do not understand how proper choices with currently available technologies could create a sustainable situation. Nuclear power to the level of France for other major countries, hybrid and electric cars, superconducting electrical distribution and engines, best practices for energy efficient industry and homes.

  10. I like the vision of Transhumanism, but personally think the best means to bring it about is to bolster the number of (usually government funded, at least in Canada) biomedical researchers…some versions of transhumanist thought involve killing my biomedical researchers and turning the atoms in their brains into screensavers or something…

    Transglobalism works, but is slow. If people could magically be given $mid-4-figure$ disposal annual incomes (why did you chicken out Mr. Chretein?!) it would surely be the most efficient system as Kurt9 suggests. Rewinding to 1936 and in retrospect at present I’ll gladly accept transglobalism over the other two alternatives.

    I think the deep greens are sexually attracted to animals.

    I affiliate most closely with the bright greens. Unfortunately, pretty soon 60% of this political base will be: Under-the-sea…da-dah da-da-dah…Under-the-sea…da-dah da-da-dah….Under the sea…..
    When the permafrost all melts and Greenland’s ice-sheet slides into the Atlantic, maybe the deep greens can get dolphins the vote and small-town politics won’t prevail? It would be nice if the transglobalist oil execs used their money to enact a hydrogen monopoly and ruled the world from a deep green perspective. Else, Under-the-sea…da dah da-dah…

  11. To Kurt9:

    Your remarks urge me to answer briefly though it’s a bit off-topic. You wrote:

    “I am going come straight out and tell you that I am definitely a “trans-globalist” or whatever label you want to affix me with. I consider the other “ideologies” you describe here to be mostly fantasies. Fantasies promugated by people who have never been in business for themselves and, therefor, do not know anything about anything.

    I think the critics of “trans-globalism” suffer from mis-information about what globalization is and who benefits from it.”

    I wouldn’t dismiss globalization entirely, it has fascinating aspects. Having travelled a lot through Africa and Asia however it is quite obvious that some of the promised benefits haven’t reached many countries there. And I am not talking about the likes of Robert Mugabe who certainly is out of his mind and brings a whole country down. I mean the diffusion of technologies that don’t get there for other reasons like restrictive IP policies and huge debts that exclude investments in these technologies. Even the so-called economic miracles of Asian tiger states are a double edged sword as the technological benefits remain concentrated to large urban hubs. To my mind globalization is not a process that automatically brings equal access to new technologies everywhere. Where there’s no capital there’s no productive adoption. I remember Gordon Brown having recently remarked he’d expect Sub-Saharan Africa to catch up not before 2130. You may call this an ideological standpoint – I call it reality.

  12. “Deep Green. To radical environmentalists… Many are mis-informed and do not understand how proper choices with currently available technologies could create a sustainable situation. Nuclear power to the level of France for other major countries,…”

    The essay at www[dot]stormsmith[dot]nl/ dispels the mis-information that nuclear is a sustainable power generating solution. Many of the arguments for seeking a (nanotech enabled) solid-state hydrogen storage technique look suspiciously like the breeder reactor holy grail. Given that nuclear has a five decade headstart and hydrogen isn’t a radioactive (and thus energy intensive to store) byproduct, I’d put my pocket change on H2. Of course, market forces favour nuclear, and this is likely still a step up from coal.

  13. That essay is wrong.

    1. Nuclear fuel can and is being reprocessed. Of the 66000 tons/year of so-called waste 98% is unburned Uranium.

    8% is being reprocessed into MOX fuel

    By doing that the amount of fuel is extended by 100 times.

    The fast breeder reactor programs have been revived or restarted. Ironically Russian oil money has revived their program. Japan will probably by from them.

    I favor Thorium molten salt reactors

    2. Japan has proven that extraction of Uranium from seawater is viable.
    This is not a CO2 intensive process. With decently advanced nanotechnology it will be trivial. There is 4 billion tons of Uranium in the ocean.

    Uranium from seawater and using all of the uranium (reprocessing or high burn reactors) tosses all of the calculations that they are making out.

    3. The duration of plants is being extended to 60 years and beyond. most of the US plants are being given 20year extensions. New plants like the CANDU advanced reactors are being built to be more easily maintained and upgraded.

    4. Hydrogen is more of an energy storage and transportation medium.
    What nanotechnology or advanced technology can provide is viable space solar power generation.

    I discuss using magnetically inflated structures for space power.
    See the later part of this article and this article

    For actual plant construction cost they are using the trailing years of the last US build cycle. When 1970’s interests rates were high and regulations and the most problem filled projects were winding down. A more useful comparison would be to look at the dozens of plants being built around the world now or the ones completed in the last ten years. I would not base a project pricing plan for cars based on DeLoreans. Also, lessons to copy should be taken from the more successful projects. The cost overrun projects should be looked to for lessons on what not to do.










  14. BTW: screwing up energy policy is not just an academic exercise or one where the right solutions should be stalled because of endless debates and irrational biases.
    Germany is one of the big proponents of renewables, yet they are building and refurbishing coal plants and buying nuclear power from France. The illusion that renewables (in their current state) can be depended on as a primary energy source is and has cost millions of lives to air pollution. 3 million die from air pollution each year (World Health Organzation)

    The just wait for nanotech to solve solar power is also a bad strategy because millions are dieing now. It is a mistake to continue mistakes now and defer making the correct solutions until better nanotechnology arrives. It is similar to Bush’s recently announced plan to not increase fuel standards but to set it as an empty goal. He has put a having a bill for increased fuel standards on cars until just before his term expires, when the next president and congress would probably do something about it anyway. We can and should understand and start reducing problems now.

    If someone strategy is to wait for better nanotechnology then it is criminal not to have a Nanhattan project to accelerate the technology cavalry.

  15. It isn’t the engineering feasibility of novel nuclear technologies that I’m attacking (though Thorium looks harder than cold-fusion), it is the economics. All of the above nuclear technologies are speculative, just as is a viable solid-state hydrogen storage technique.
    Various flavours of nuclear power have had hundreds of billions of tax-payer (DoD, DOE, primarily) dollars thrown their way, if not trillions; the figure for hydrogen storage is probably two orders of magnitude less. In Canada, the federal government has thrown hundreds of millions Ballard’s way (50X more to oil players BTW) over the last decade, and I’d be very surprised if this is less than 10% of global tax-payer expenditures on hydrogen over the same time-period.

    I see deflationary computational chemistry forces in hydrogen storage R + D that just aren’t there when considering nuclear (excepting perhaps, Uranium from seawater). The basic thesis of the StormSmith essay is that there is an inflationary component to nuclear: increasing its penetration results in progressively more low-grade ore reserves being mined. My basic premise is that nuclear has had more than its fair share of investment thx to Cold War naval needs, and it still has along way to go towards being a sustainable solution. I’d be happy to be proven wrong on Uranium extraction from seawater, but only because it might benefit desalination technologies.

    How much would nuclear Thorium cost to develop? I’d say $10 trillion over five decades. I’m not saying put all the eggs into Hydrogen. My alternate would be to invest in better (lower footprint) conventional battery technologies (Li-ion and such, once again relying on deflationary chemistry/nanotech forces) and then maybe cleaner burning hydrocarbon technologies (natural gas is best but isn’t plentiful). One idea for a post-Kyoto regime is to slap tariffs on imports from nations that don’t modernize (assuming financial resources to do so) their power-plant air emissions. This is a far cheaper way to deal with lung cancer and asthma than is taking the breeder reactor route, assuming Russia’s lone reactor could meet Western environmental standards (it can’t).
    There are more fundamental problems with Bush’s enviro-policies than some delayed car emissions law…

  16. >Thorium looks harder than cold-fusion

    That seems strange when working reactor were made and operated in 1965-72

    More reactors have been built and operated using Thorium

    India’s president kalam is committed to making thorium a major part of India’s energy independence

    how is reprocessing speculative when it is being done at 5000 tons per year ?

    There was a storage system breakthrough 3 months ago

    Storing hydrogen is just part of the deal you have to make the hydrogen. How do you plan to do this on a large scale ? Burn coal? 50% of electricity is coal. Wait for super solar from nanotech ?

    The Uranium from seawater has been done and can be improved with slight research with the current generation of nanomaterials.

    But we are not running out of regular uranium now.

    As of the beginning of 2003 World Uranium reserves were:

    * Reasonable Assured Reserves recoverable at less than $US130/kgU (or $US50/lb U3O8) = 3.10 – 3.28 million tonnes.
    * Additional reserves recoverable at less than $US130/kgU (or $US50/lb U3O8) = 10.690 million tonnes.

    As of the beginning of 2005 World Uranium reserves were:

    * Reasonable Assured Reserves recoverable at less than $US130/kgU (or $US50/lb U3O8) = 4.7 million tonnes.
    * Additional recoverable Uranium is estimated to be 35 million tonnes

    Over 50 years without tapping MOX which we are making 5000t/year or tapping the added reserves.

    Uranium prices are up 600% because of speculation and increased demand and reduced exploration. we had a 30 year lull, so there was no need to look for more. Now we will.

    None of this effects the next 20-30 years (after which we both are expecting big tech changes)

  17. Hi Mr Huggans,

    In regards to nuclear power, you should see this site!

    As far as I can see, the only real objection to nuclear is cost overruns.

    However, because of carbon trading, carbon costs could explode! Therefore nuclear is essential in any energy strategy as a Financial Hedge!


  18. btw: I believe that the current uranium reactors gen 3 and 3.5 are adequate. 30 are being built around the world now and I think that is good. There about 200 more being planned for the next 20 years already. The more of them the better, so that less coal and fossil fuel is used.

    104 reactors are still operating in the USA and another 28 were built and then shutdown. They have been providing about 19% of US electricity for 40 some years. So many billions spent on them has been a good value. Maybe a penny per kWh.

    All the money spent on nuclear, wind and solar and alternatives to coal etc… is worthwhile, because coal has about 100 billion in costs that do not get charged to the (in the US 50 billion coal industry). Health costs from making people sick (heart attacks, lung diseases), economic costs from flight delays from reduced visibility, 30000-60000 premature deaths each year, 40% of rail maintenance (moving 1.2 billion tons of coal in the US is 40% of all rail freight).

    btw: the 600% increase in Uranium only effects prices for electricity by less than 5% because the uranium is a small part of the operating cost. Each reactor (GW) only uses about 150,000 kg of uranium each year to generate about 8 billion to 9 billion kWh/year. So nuclear fission can be improved but the current technology being used over the next 10-15 years is good enough and sustainable. Especially if we adopt the best proven (by decades of actual use) French approach of reprocessing OR develop the better Thorium or Uranium high burn reactors to handle the unburned uranium (what you call nuclear waste)

    The energy infrastructure is expensive to build out no matter what technology you use. It is a question of the value that you get.
    Paying more or less for real estate does not say if it is a good value. You have to compare to how much you bought. Over the next 20 years the world will probably have to spend 10 to 15 trillion building out new and upgrading old energy infrastructure. (More on the water infrastructure) I think spending 10-15% on researching better or improved options is justified.

    Btw: I do not have a bias for the technology other than looking at each in detail at seeing what is the best working solution. I want solar to be improved and expect it to happen but it is currently less than 1% of the added capacity.

    Solar and wind technology in their current forms have trouble with being built out faster than they are. Wind, 2 megawatts has a 100 meter rotor. A 40-50 story high tower with a super jumbo wing spinning. You need about 800 of them to equal the 1GW nuclear plant. You use more concrete and metal for the wind. Solar needs a massive build out as well and there are silicon supply issues. All the solar in the world added last year is about equal to one nuclear plant.

  19. My references to nuclear technologies were based upon the assumption of their widespread usage. For Thorium being harder than Fusion, I meant the Salt Thorium reactor initially referenced. If Fusion is possible it should be cheap shortly after.

    I hadn’t previously been aware of Uranium-from-seawater; that would always be a good technology to have on hand because it would likely yield other materials (including industrially and personally essential fresh water). I’m for all of the existing prototype reactors (okay, not the Chernobyl graphite design anymore), that is part of the problem; their complete operation lifecycle costs are just now starting to be incurred as engineers realize waste disposal is an energy intensive process that lasts FOREVER!!!
    Anything that deflates the cost of getting Yellow Cake (U3O8) will make nuclear cheaper as anything below 0.02% mass U3O8 is too expensive.
    The solar I’m using as the overbuilt power source in my regenerative PEM hydrogen fuel-cell along with wind are polymer solar cells (relying on recent quantum dot and chemical process advances that don’t resemble CVD grown silicon ones), whose technical innovations either already have occured and are trade secrets or will occur within 18 months, from manufacturers like Konarka and Nanosolar. The roll-to-roll organic solar cells can be tested for product lifecycle degradation using chemical means lasting months or less, most nuclear reactor failure modes involve real-world decades long operation of actual prototype reactors.

    Wind uses less cement as foundation than nuclear reactors need for foundation and particle shielding. But the costs (of all types) are negligible for both. Turbine manufacturer is easy aerospace manufacture. It is generally getting cheaper because of carbon composite materials advances. Even assuming fibreglass turbines and optimistic (non-waste storage) nuclear estimates, I think (don’t know about the rare earth magnet costs) energy costs and emissions costs are better for wind than for present nuclear, but both are better than for hydrocarbons. Coal is horrible. Nuclear might even be better silicon solar, IDK CVD is costly in many ways. Without some demonstratabbly cheap way to purify/extract low yield Uranium Ores, it won’t suitably cheap for widespread implementation.

  20. For between Mars and Pluto orbit, and for Navies, nuclear is essential so it will always be around. Solar and wind might all benefit from transmission line efficiency research (superconductors, CNTs).

  21. Interestingly and I suppose unconsciously, the debate over means of energy production oddly fulfills the testimony that started off this post:
    “But it’s at least arguable that the focus on the technical obscures the real
    causes of the arguments, which are actually based on clashes of
    Which is doubly wonderful as the actual subject matter of the post really was ideology and somehow got subsumed by the technical bits of energy production.

    As for myself I can’t help but be a Bright Green and think it should be (and is already) used to frame the issues and developments at NT’s core for terms of PR.

    The other narratives lack the essential motivation which the Bright Green offers. The Transhumanist can only speak about the singularity with all subsequent effects unknowable – hardly a rousing call to get the party started when you don’t know how it will end.

    I think the Transglobalists can claim some satisfaction from getting the money to roll into the research and development coffers, but the Globalism has a bad taint to it and rarely does well in opinion polls. Whether or not Globalism deserves this bad reputation is more a matter of opinion, as little research has shown it to be clearly the case one way or the other. Using the Transglobalist narrative means bringing the baggage of the associated ideologies (Globalism, Free-Market Capitalism, etc) along for the ride. Also tough if NT eliminates market forces al a singularities.

    The Deep Greens, while certainly an ideology that has informed itself and invited itself to the party, seems more like the anti-narrative than anything else. But a Deep Green narrative does bring a very good moral underpinning to the issue. Something that the other narratives lack is the Deep Green caution and concern. And while it may not be a narrative for the advance of NT it is a wild card since any other narrative that answers it’s challenges and sets it rest will gain, considerably, from it’s demographic of supporters.

    The Bright Greens, potentially, may be able to do just that – and by ensuring the concerns of the Deep Greens are satisfied they could be given the “good for you, and us” seal of approval. Which in the eyes of the public can be very convincing – especially for investors (who remember what a public scare bad products can produce). Additionally by advocating the technology as a “third way”, distinct from those that have tried and failed before, it allows the ability of the emotional appeal of hope to be used in the course of the narrative.


    I would like to make one caveat, all these are narratives – world views repackaged into consumable chunks for the means of dissemination. The narratives espoused here are not reality – but they are the reality that we perceive, or choose to perceive, the world by.

    Any one accidentally believing in a narrative should seek empirical justification and the attention of a trained professional. Children under the age of 12 should not be exposed to narratives as they have been known to cause blindness. Only use narratives as transparent pedagogical devices under the supervision of the public at large.

  22. Neils Boeing,

    I have not been to Africa, so I cannot comment about it. I can only talk about my own experiences with it (North America, East Asia, and Europe) and how I have made it work for me. I can tell you that globalization has definitely benefited East Asia. You have an area (like China) that was Africa-poor in 1980 and today, all of its east coast cities (not just Shanghai) are modernizing and relatively pleasant places to be or live.

    I know planty of small companies and even lone individuals who sucessfully sell their products and services all over the world. I have a friend with a 10-person company, who manufactures and sells biotech analytical instruments all over the world ( I know many others (on both sides of the pacific) who do the same thing. Then, there is my own operation (

    My main problem with the critics of globalization is their misguided belief that only large corporations benefit from it. I and most of my friends are the proof that globalization is just as empowering of small groups and lone individuals as it is of large corporations. I argue that globalization actually empowers people like me MORE than it does large corporations. This is because large corporations, like ALL large human institutions, are bureaucracies. Empowered individuals like myself and small companies, are not bureaucracies. Globalization favors us over them because the most significant effect of globalization is that it increases DYNAMISM. Anything that increases dynamism is, by nature, good because it is empowers the “small” (individuals and small businesses) over the “large” (governments and large corporations). This is ALWAYS a good thing and should always be promoted. The fact that the critics of globalization do not understand this basic nature of human organizations makes it clear to me that they have brains that do not work properly.

    Now, it may be that globalization does not work for places like Africa and Latin America. It may be that the people of these regions are fundamentally different than the East Asians and, therefor, what works for East Asia is not going to work for these people (I am not going to digress into what exactly these differences might be). If so, then let the globalization continue for the parts of the world where it does work, but use some other method for dealing with the parts of the world it does not work. However, it is stupid to “hold back” people who can move on on their own, simply because other people lack such capability. All of this ought to be a no-brainer. But, again, we often deal with people whose brains do not work properly when it comes to debating issues such as globalization.

    If the “critics” of globalization spent more time starting and growing their own businesses, rather than ranting and raving about how “unfair” the world is, they would improve their own lives as well as leave the rest of us alone to pursue our own lives as well. We would all be the better of it. The fact that they do not supports my argument that these people have brains that do not work properly.

  23. As a straight-up transhumanist, I am skeptical that any deep greens give a damn about nanotechnology or even know much about it. Most bright greens, i.e., the folks at Treehugger for instance, seem relatively uneducated on nanotech because it doesn’t seem to be in their crosshairs except insofar as it helps boost solar panel efficiency.

    Despite being a transhumanist, I don’t believe that Drexlerian nanotechnology is inevitable – just relatively likely. Surely molecular-sized aggregates other than ribosomes can construct large structures in a highly parallelized fashion with molecular precision. Whether diamond is necessary or wet solutions must be employed, I’ll be able to sleep at night either way. I just want civilization to be able to take advantage of scaling laws for manufacturing. Even highly parallelized MEMS factories would let us do this, but just to a lesser degree.

    Also, as a transhumanist that wants to see Drexlerian nanotech become a reality, I realize that bullshitting about MNT won’t get me an inch closer to the goal. If there are problems, they should be thrown out in the open. If more research must be conducted, then that research should be identified and encouraged – not ignored. If the whole thing doesn’t work out… oh well, there are always other avenues to blowing the transhumanist project wide open.

    There may be many different ideological views, but only one reality. The view best aligned with reality takes home all the chips in the end. Which is why I welcome and encourage all the criticism for the MNT camp that your brain can produce.

  24. The problem with too much criticism of MNT is that it gets to the point that no one wants to be associated with it, and therefore none of that basic research gets done.

    Richard, one thing I can’t figure out about these categories, is can’t place you in any of them. So, what category would you put yourself in?

    Also, with all the talk going on in here in the U.S. about the real costs of ethanol as a substitute for gasoline, e.g., increased food prices, more natural habitat converted to agricultural use, energy used in production vs. energy gained, what do think your soft-wet style nanotechnology could do to improve production of fossil fuel alternatives? It seems to me the argument for ethanol has hinged on the idea that you don’t have to wait millions of years to replenish your supply, but nature is not obliged to evolve plants that are easily convertible to fuel. Through genetic engineering, you could probably increase efficiencies, but what could you do from a completely synthetic biology approach?

  25. The coastline of China is similiar to the Northern Mexico border, the *African* nations on the Mediterranean…
    Globalization is a finance problem. All (non-AIDS) incomes double at a quickening rate. Fixed basic costs of living eat away at all tax-bases and fixed “service economy development” costs are too big for smaller (or looted) tax-bases to fully pay for. For example, farmers are now a service economy political player in Western nations and Agriculture growers in Africa (its largest industry) don’t have the tax-base to participate in globalization: here it is globalization’s own (political) service economy that is impeding globalization!!!

    M.Anissimov, in my view of medical progress the biggest productive gains will acrue by using robotics to put most people in most industries out of work, steepening the robotics tax-rate, and paying adults to go to school on a semi-regular basis. Ubiquitous diamond industrial robots aren’t a product of the soft-nanotechnology pathway. A lesser trophy is power, and some chloroplast-inspired soft-product may be invented. I guess it all comes down to the value of the feedstocks versus products. MEMS sized diamond building blocks are very expensive and not suitable for single-grained constructs whereas acetylene is cheap and would potentially facilitate single-grained diamonds as a product. MEMS sized cell organelle are cheap, but I don’t think it is possible to make a centrifuge or a gene database hard-drive without conductive ceramics or metals.
    There is certainly more to medical advances in a MNT context than deflationary equipment costs and increased workforce; I guess my point is with solution-phase nanotechnology you get some medical treatments, but none of the underlying medical R+D equipment. An MRI machine requires rare-Earth magnets. I can see how diamond robots could make magnets cheaper to extract.

  26. Nanoenthusiast, I’m strangely heartened that you haven’t worked out what my ideology is – naturally I try to be a dispassionate academic observer, simply describing what I see. Of course, though, I do have a worldview which colours the way I see things as much as anyone else.

    I agree more with Michael than you about the desirability of criticism of MNT, though. Whatever I think about its ultimate feasibility, I do think it is an interesting idea which deserves the courtesy of serious criticism. The problem in academic nanoscience isn’t that the ideas of MNT are criticised too much, it is that they are simply ignored.

    As you say, the problem of energy is really immediate and soft wet nano may be able to contribute. An economic process for making ethanol from cellulose is urgently needed (in my view that’s the only way that biofuels will ever make sense), though that may be more a question of synthetic biology or indeed conventional biotechnology. I also think unconventional photovoltaics do have a serious chance, if not a certainty, of enabling a major scale-up of solar power.

    Phillip, with regard to medical advances, what I’m coming to realise is that what’s going to be important isn’t so much high tech medical interventions, but innovations allowing the elderly to live independently for longer. What’s going to be in short supply in rich countries with ageing populations aren’t going to be doctors and surgeons, but nurses.

  27. My impression is that there is far more R&D being done in synthetic biology and other forms of “wet” nanotech than there is in dry or “drexlerian” MNT. I do not think this is any accident or over sight. There is a substantial presentation on current work in nanotech called “Synthetic Molecular Motors and Mechanical machines” at (

    I was able to sign up and download the paper (130 pages) as a complimentary download (its around 10MB). The paper talks about biologically-inspired nanotech as well as mechanically-based nanotech. However, it is clear from reading the paper (this is a quite a read) that the nanotech they are talking about is “wet” nanotech, even the mechanical stuff. The authors make it clear early in the paper that utilization, rather than suppression, of brownian motion is essential for workable nanotechnology, just like what our friend Richard Jones here has been saying all along.

    This review of nanotech is the most comprehensive paper I have read on the subject for some time. Dry MNT may be possible, but this paper makes it look quite unlikely.

    I think the real question is: Why the obession with dry nanotech? Is dry MNT necessary to get what we want? Perhaps a better approach is to decide what we want to make, then figure a way to make it from wet nanotech.

  28. Robo-nurses: take your pills, human.
    nursing home resident: no!!
    Robo-nurses: (eyes glow red)
    nursing home resident: (complies meekly)

    Kurt, a manufacturing system with only wet nanotech can gain little closure in scaling up many basic industrial processes. A car for instance. A house for instance. A building foundation. A computer and peripherals. I don’t see plastics as being a solution-phase product; with conducting plastics somehow in the toolkit that might change things a bit.

    “Which is why I welcome and encourage all the criticism for the MNT camp that your brain can produce. ”

    Michael, to be constructive here is my (vague) MNT study plan for the years ahead:
    -diamond surface chemistry
    -boron-diamond surface chemistry
    -CNT experiment co-ordinates (utilizing CNTs as experimental vessel)
    -Industrial design of novel SPMs
    -primarily ceramic (MNT-able) AFM/SPM component designs
    -computer sims for mechanosynthesis metabolism steps (especially like to see Boron moeity on diamond lattice)
    -learn workings of existing nanotech instruments/tools

  29. Philip, I’ve seen some the designs coming out of Japan for these robot nurses. The ones that are actually robots don’t look like they would be of much use. Other designs are really powered exoskeletons for petite, female care givers that give them the extra strength to pick up their patients. What I don’t get is, why wouldn’t you give the powered exoskeleton to the patient to begin with, allowing them more independence? If I lost most of my mobility to frailty, I’d want the machine for myself.

    Kurt, all life on Earth, by necessity, evolved by a string of fortuitous collision of molecules; it is therefore not surprising that man’s first forays into the nano realm would be based on the same principles, seeing as how much there is in biology to leverage. What is possible in a low temperature, ultra-high-vacuum environment is not presently known; it is an area well worth exploring despite the lack of preexisting, natural sources of inspiration and material. It is an area worth exploring for the reasons Philip has mentioned above.

  30. Phillip,

    I disagree with you about the prospects and capabilities of “wet” nanotech. The existance of coral reefs and redwood trees suggest the possibility of “wet” nanotech in making large, durable structures with at least the complexity of cars and high-rise buildings. Seashells are made of ceramics that are of hardness similar to those used in jet engines.

    Nature (biology) has given us quite a tool-set to work with. Most of the papers I see coming out of the various labs seem to be based on this fact.

    I am not a nanotechnologist. I do have some knowledge of chemistry. What I do know (and my instincts tell me) that MNT (defined as machine-phase chemistry occuring in vacuum, non-solvent environment) is probably unlikely. Given that I am not an expert in the field, I could be wrong. In any case, I do think the MNT approach should be explored.

    I think if MNT (machine-phase chemistry) is possible, it will be far more useful in space (where it already is a cold, vacuum environment) development than it will be on Earth (which favors solution-phase processes).

    However, even if I am right and MNT is not possible, we can still use other methods (tele-robotics, general automation technologies, materials science) to colonize space and create lots of new wealth as well as (biotechnology, synthetic biology) to cure aging and create indefinitely long youthful lifespans. We must not tie our dreams and visions to the development of this particular technology.

    I think nuclear technology (fission, fusion, ???) is at least as important for space development as nanotechnology.

  31. I agree seashell or bone type structure would be of sufficient Young’s Modulus and Toughness for medical prosthetics or nursing home “robotic medicine dispensers” (like a pez-machine assuming no diodes). The shell structure of home appliances is plastics now and will be something better in the future. Maybe it will be abalone.
    Solution-phase manufacturing is with us and will continue to be. But it can’t manufacture anything that makes its own manufacturing process cheaper (apart from medicines keeping its employees working longer and more productively).

    I can see how MNT could rapidly be deflationary to the world’s whole economy, tripling productivity rates in every industry not rendered obsolete. Solution-phase manufacturing can’t output products capable of processes like the mining of metals on the Moon using robotic replicators and mechanosynthesis using a pseudo-AFM. These two products would potentially almost be as big as making cast iron (enabled steam engine) was.

  32. Phillip Huggan Says: Solution-phase manufacturing can’t output products capable of processes like the mining of metals on the Moon.

    Really? What is a human being collecting rock samples on the Moon?

    Is there really a necessity for shiny hard technology like space suits and mining equipment and nuclear reactors at all? (Just a food for thought, of course I don’t think future will be all organic.)

    It is the software, driven only by the goal of its own survival and reproduction, that sucks. Not the Soft Ware. It is theoretically possible to create humans free of aging, every single disease and pain just by modifying the software, the genome. Why not take it a little further.

    Phillip Huggan Says: Solution-phase manufacturing is with us and will continue to be. But it can’t manufacture anything that makes its own manufacturing process cheaper.

    Even the blind evolution created more efficient systems from less efficient precursors. We can do better.

    And don’t get me wrong. I am well aware that MNT is possible. However
    I find it hard to accept that for every goal, under every constraints and circumstances it will be the best technology. I am even skeptical that it will look like the infamous “nanofactory video” on CRN.

    Just my two cents.

  33. WOW!!

    I’m just getting into engineering at the University of Alberta and I’m going to specialize in nano-tech because of what I imagine it could be. The only problem is that I don’t have any real information about how it works on the basic level. I know that it’s working with moleculs on the nano scale, but I don’t know how its done. Could someone give me a crash-course in basic nano-tech.

    For as little as I know about the tech… “I’m extremely optimistic about it’s possibilities!”. I mean come on!… It’s the study of manipulating moleculs at a nano-scale… Forget the fact that the dicipline will end up dealing with even smaller sizes in time. Focus on what we were capable of doing when limited to manipulating, at the smallest, millimeters, then think about nano-tech again. Hell, even with the little education I have at this stage I can see it’s possibilities as the next discovery of fire.

    Nano-tech could cure disease, be the fountion of youth, streamline recycling, be the end of energy worries, make “The Matrix” instant information input possible, basicaly every futuristic invention possible. Granted some inventions will take time, espesially because we haven’t explored the universe yet and don’t know all the possible needs, but I submit to you agian… COME ON!!! THIS TECH KICKS ASS!!!

    As far as the four classifications go, I would like to be a transhumanist but I have lived too long in this world to think that all humans, for the rest of time, would stop being capable of social deteriative thoughts ie. selfishness, hate. And I do accept transglobal, but only for the same reason that I can’t be a transhumanist ie. pride in one’s own accomplishments. Not that there is anything wrong with pride in your accomplishments, but to me it seems that when people achieve they usually adopt a dimunitive idea about those who do not achieve. I am also not a deep-green, but only because of the idea that arises when everyone else thinks about deep-greens. Like deep-greens I to think that nature is the way to sociaties mental happyness, but I include technology into the mix along with all other diciplins of study in an obvious reality that diversified knowledge is sanity! Therefore I am definatly a very light green with a little yellow in the centre.

    “And thats the news to me”

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