Denialism: Drexler vs. Roco
Technology and Society Magazine, IEEE
Vol. 23, Num. 4
The promise of nanotechnology has generated revolutionary visions of the future, and the near-term possibilities have spurred corporate and government investment. However, along the way, the prospect of replication by machine, and the manipulation of atoms by machine, has been abandoned as impractical and scary. The "vision" of Feynman has been denied and in the process, K. Eric Drexler, who supports the drive to nanoreplication, has been declared "persona non grata" by some in the field. Berube and Shipman write: "...Drexler makes at least three major allegations in regards to his role in nanotechnology. First, his vision of nanotechnology was used to get Congress on board to fund the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI). However once the funding was garnered, his ideas were largely discarded in favor of more conservative views of the technology and its potential. Second, his views of mechanosynthesis and molecular manufacturing have been rejected and he has been demonized and marginalized by the scientific establishment. Thirdly, the inclusion of a feasibility study on molecular manufacturing in the 21st Century Nanotechnology Research and Development Act was skillfully excised at the last minute by the Nanotechnology Business Alliance, and is likely to marginalize him in the field further." The authors look at these asseverations and "provide some insight into the general tenor of the debate." Business investors didn't want visions and warnings, prophecies or doom; they wanted products. Richard Smalley, another scientist with a great deal of clout in the field, derided Drexler and his ideas and made the debate about what was practical to do -- in chemical engineering at the nanoscale, in molecular manufacturing -- pointedly personal, and even vituperative. Berube and Shipman say, "Watching Drexler speak about denialism, it is difficult not to notice that he is emotionally upset at the tone and direction of the debate over the NNI. He concluded his March speech at South Carolina contending 'if the policy of denialism continues within the field of nanotechnology, the United States would end up being on the wrong side of a technology gulf comparable to hand-crafted spears and mass-produced machine weapons. Terrorism cannot destroy the United States of America or conquer it. Current NNI policy, if continued, has an excellent prospect of doing so.'" The authors politely disagree with Drexler, and conclude "it might behoove the field if the debate became more civil."