Media Agenda set by Drexler - 28th July 2003, 23.15
Not the strongest of titles but it says its piece. Here's an article from Tim Radford, Science editor of the Grauniad, responding to a forthcoming report of the ESRC on the political implications of nanotechnology. As per usual, the piece turns into the usual reproduction of derivative speculation taht has burdened the field since Drexler's original work entered public consciousness.
The report, by three Sheffield University academics, says the debate on its implication has become polarised between visions of utopia and planetary catastrophe.
"The utopian vision predicts the technology will clean up the environment, free humanity from disease, ageing and death, and provide material abundance that will eradicate poverty," they say.
"The dystopian vision is the 'grey goo' scenario, predicting that nanotechnology could signal the end of the world, as the biosphere is destroyed by out-of-control, self-replicating robots."
This Manichaean perspective is the problem since informed debate will be skewed by those opposed to any technology that may have an environmental impact. Thankfully, the Greenpeace report was quoted once.
Another report, commissioned by Greenpeace from a researcher at Imperial College, London, says that informed debate is vital, to avoid a technology out of control.
"While the danger seems slight, even a slight risk of such a catastrophe is best avoided," it advises.
The unspoken assumption, based upon the precautionary principle, would appear to be that any chance of catastrophe, however small, justifies prohibition. More information can be found here, where Greenpeace receives a cool reception to its political 'threat' of a moratorium.
The study was carried out for the Greenpeace Environmental Trust by the Imperial College London.
â€œAlthough an externally imposed nanotech moratorium seems both impractical and probably damaging at present, industry may find such a fate virtually self-imposed if they do not take the issue of public acceptance seriously,â€� the report states.
Two problems: a distorted perception of nanotechnology that stultifies public debate and provides favours to opponents of nano rather than its supporters.