I ran across a Wired article today. It talks about a recent report from the Erosion Technology and Concentration action group. In short, it contends that Nano-Biotech research could lead to tiny genetic monsters converting the entire world to a bunch of “green goo”. Borrowing a page from Drexler and Joy and the “grey goo” scenario, the people at ECT believe that in the presence of such obvious danger, research into nanotech and biotech should be regulated out of existence. Maybe some one should tell them that Dr. Drexler has since recanted of sorts.
“An obsession with obsolete science-fiction images of swarms of replicating nanobugs has diverted attention from the real issues raised by the coming revolution in molecular nanotechnologies, We need to focus on the issues that matter—how to deal with these powerful new capabilities in a competitive world.” Dr. K Erik Drexler said recently.
The alarmist rhetoric that comes from people like the ETC is a sign of the times I guess. There seems to be a Luddite trend in current media. Just this weekend I went to see I, Robot. Where the anti-technology hero saves the world from an army of soulless robots and a fascist A.I.. And not long ago I sat through Godsend, where a grieving family was given a clone of their recently dead young son. Of course things went horribly awry and people died.
And let us not forget Michael “frightened” Crichton, who has made a career of making people nervous and scared about new science. All of his novels and films seem to have the same premise. Here is a new technology, look how it turns out to be terrible and we are nearly destroyed, maybe we never should have unleashed this scientific horror. Nanotech in Prey, cloning in Jurassic Park, even time travel in Timeline.
As fear mongering like this becomes more and more prevalent, we are less and less likely to pursue import technologies. Look at all the starving people of the third world, that could actually eat if not for the bum wrap given to genetically modified food. Yes we need to understand that new innovations can be dangerous. But steps can be taken to account for and minimize the risks, and then we proceed with their development. If we don’t, the price we’ll end up paying will be scientific stagnation, just to get imagined safety from some imagined fears. (I own two transgenic fish, and to date, niether has tried to kill me. Although I'm sure they talk about it amongst themselves quietly.)
I had quite enough of the Dark Ages in European history class. Given a choice, I’ll take the Renaissance.
Overcome fear, behold wonder. — Æschylus (525-456 BC)
More to come...