Save the GloFish!

Add the poor GloFish to the list of endangered species. Where's Greenpeace when you really need them? ;-)

On the 5th of January 2004, the GloFish will become the first genetically modified pet to reach the (US) market. Thanks to the insertion of jellyfish genes, zebra fish have been made to glow in the dark, but apart from this unique selling point, the little fish are just the same as any other zebra fish, as found in countless aquaria world-wide. But don't run to order one at your local pet shop yet. The Ornamental Aquatic Trade Association describes the GloFish as an "unwelcome addition to the market place", not because it is in any way dangerous, mind you, but because:

"Cold tolerant tropical fish might be produced" that could then escape and possibly harm the environment. However, this is not the case of the GloFish: it could not survive the British winter.

"Arguments could rage over whether or not the technologies to produce sterile fish are water tight". However, this is not a worry with the GloFish for the same reason given above.

"Theoritically these [genetically modified fish] should not pose a threat to the ecology of countries to which they are imported." Fine. Again, this is not the case with the GloFish.

"In Europe generally, and in the UK in particular, there is very strong opposition to GM technologies". Errr... and? Oh, I see, they are worried about white-overall-clad eco-vandals throwing bricks through their shop windows. Not such a far-fetched scenario, sadly enough...

"Arguments can rage over the ethics of swapping genes between species: are we playing god or is it a logical application of mans' advancing knowledge? It is a matter of personal choice or conviction." Indeed. And guess which side the OATA takes...

The whole argument rests more on a general dislike of the idea of genetic modification, rather than on any actual dangers presented by the poor, harmless GloFish and is a worrying reflection of much of society's backward attitutes to recombinant DNA technology...

The OATA anti-GloFish statement

Some GloFish pictures - just because we like them!

Do you know of anyone planning to sell GloFish in the UK? Let us know!


Future Brain - How human will our brains be at the end of the 21st Century?

A London event of clear extropian interest at the newly opened Dana Centre on Monday the 15th of December 2003, 19.00 - 20.30.

Speakers: Susan Greenfield, Kirsty Young.

Click here for more info.


NANOTECHNOLOGY - Your opinion counts!

The Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering want your views on new health and safety, environmental, social and ethical issues nanotechnology might raise, as part of their public consultation on nanotech.

The document produced as part of the nanotechnology consultation is a sober, middle of the road sort of thing, which is fine as far as it goes, especially as it will help nip in the bud any scaremongering from neo-luddite groups. However, from an extropian point of view, it only offers a very limited and unimaginative vision of medium and long-term developments. The grey goo scenario is dealt with by estimating that, if at all possible, it will not be a worry before "perhaps 2080 at least", without a mention of active shields, and the possibility of ever achieving immortality, or a radically increased life expectancy, is not even deemed worth of consideration. The whole thing is dealt with with a single phrase in a "science fiction" section...

In short, we should be glad that this document suggests a pragmatic approach to the short-term development of nanotechnology, as this will eventually lead to the development of the type of transhumanist technologies we are interested in. However, a little injection of futurist comments from the public (i.e. us!) might be necessary...

...but act quickly: the deadline is the 5th of December 2003!

Find out more and download a PDF version of the document "Nanotechnology: view of Scientists and Engineers"

Submit you comments online


ExtroBritannia's December meeting: Transhuman Xmas!

The next ExtroBritannia lunch/get-together is scheduled for Saturday the 6th of December starting at 12,00 noon in London.

We are having an early Xmas event, so let's call it a Transhuman Xmas! ;-)

There is no specific theme to discuss, so all transhumanist-related subjects are welcome. Whether you are interested in the philosophical (extropy, transhumanism, immortalism), or the practical side of things (current life-extension strategies, including cryonics), whether your interest is technological (AI, bio/nanotech) or political (transhumanist activism), you are invited to come along for a chat and/or to ask questions over lunch and/or a drink.

If it's your first time at an ExtroBritannia meeting I'll be the guy clearly displaying a copy of Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines" on the table.

We will meet at midday for lunch at "The Plough and Harrow" a Wetherspoon pub in Hammersmith and will be there most of the afternoon. The nearest tube station is Hammersmith (District, Piccadilly and Hammersmith and City lines).

120-124 King Street
London W6 4QU
Tel: 0208 735 6020

PLEASE NOTE: you will see a Wetherspoon pub just outside the tube station, at the start of King Street, but that's not the right Wetherspoon. You will need to walk five minutes down King Street, past the King's Mall Shopping Centre for the Plough and Harrow.



ExtroBritannia meetings are run in conjunction with Alcor UK:



New facility opens in London with the goal of fostering debate on science and technology

From the Dana Centre website: "The Dana Centre marks a new direction in science communication: to challenge public perception and tackle contemporary science head on. This dynamic events space will bring the hottest themes in modern science to adults-only audiences through a programme of bold and innovative events. It will be a taboo-free centre and the place to talk science. The Dana Centre is a stylish, purpose-built venue, complete with a cafèbar, appealing to 18-45-year-olds. It is a place for them to take part in exciting, informative and innovative debates about contemporary science, technology and culture."

Sound like "our" sort of place! Any blog readers that have been there in person? If so, let us know what you think of the place on the mailing list, it could well be an attractive venue for future ExtroBritannia meetings.


Selecting the sex of a child is to be banned in the UK after a consultation exercise found the public outraged by the idea.

A Guardian article on the decision of the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (the agency in charge or regulating fertility treatment).

Exceptions will be made for families where one gender would risk inheriting a serious genetic disorder such as haemophilia and Duchenne muscular dystrophy, but so-called "family balancing" will not be allowed, which will inevitably drive some parents to those countries (e.g. the United States) where sex selection is allowed.

There are two problems with this decision:

ONE - as transhumanists, we believe that "parents must be allowed to choose for themselves whether to reproduce, how to reproduce, and what technological methods they use in their reproduction. The use of genetic medicine or embryonic screening to increase the probability of a healthy, happy, and multiply talented child is a responsible and justifiable application of parental reproductive freedom. [...] Only in extreme and unusual cases might state infringement of procreative liberty be justified. If, for example, a would-be parent wished to undertake a genetic modification that would be clearly harmful to the child or would drastically curtail its options in life, then this prospective parent should be prevented by law from doing so." (from the Transhumanist FAQ, Version 2.0)
Sex selection and "family balancing" should not be considered to be extreme and unusual cases.

TWO - The HFEA justifies its decision by saying that the strength of public opinion on the subject left them little choice. However, no evidence that the practice of sex selection would be harmful to society has been presented, and this is what makes the HFEA's decision unacceptable. In an open society, majority-rule should not be allowed to regulate some aspect of individual conduct without a clear demonstration of the threat it poses to society. Sadly, the HFEA's decision is instead based on the general public's knee-jerk, "yuk factor" response to a new technology.


"We risk seeing technologies lose out to prejudice and procrastination"

A Times article highlights the tide of neglect and abuse that is haunting British science.

More than 100 leading scientists have signed an open letter to Tony Blair to save British science from a "backward slide" in the climate for debate over technologies such as genetic modification. The letter is a response to a largely hysterical media response to recent GM farm trials, misreported as spelling doom for the technology and to the way the public debate on GM technology which ran during the summer was allowed to be highjacked by green militants. The scientists accuse the government of having abandoned them on the subject of GM crops where false claims about 'Frankenfoods' and 'superweeds' where left unchallenged, and demand that the Government does not "give way to misguided protesters who stand in the way of medical and economic advance."

Such concerns are shared by those who looks forward to the day when advanced technologies will be able to have a significant impact on the human condition (see ExtroBritannia's submission to the Royal Society's public consultation on nanotechnology). If this is what happens to what is after all a rather trivial technology (GM crops), what is going to happen when "transhumanist technologies" begin to emerge? Are we going to let the anti-progress groups have the upper hand - again?


The Times article: Scientists test Blair and find him wanting

Professor Derek Burke, the lead signatory, on GM crops


Eric Drexler's submission to the Royal Society's Working Group on Nanotechnology

The author of the seminal Engines of Creation attempts to clarify the confusion surrounding what exactly is meant by "nanotechnology"

From Drexler's submission: "Confusion around divergent uses of this term have spawned much of the confusion around the subject. [...] it has increasingly been used to re-label a diverse and often little-related collection of research efforts [...] It was the Feynman vision and its consequences that gave "nanotechnology" its reputation as a revolutionary technology with enormous promise and dangers, but it is current research that gives a different sort of "nanotechnology" a reputation as something happening right now. Confusion between these meanings -- and the natural urge of numerous researchers to dissociate their current work from promises and dangers that they neither understand nor plan to deliver -- has generated much heat."

In order to avoid confusion, Drexler suggests we look at the number of distinct parts in a molecularly manufactured product, typically on the rough order of a sextillion (10^21). Since the prefix "zetta-" denotes this number, the term "zettatechnology" naturally describes molecular manufacturing and its products.

Some extracts from the submission on Nanodot:

From Nanotech to Zettatech, by K. Eric Drexler


Science fiction: Karl Schroeder's website.

An interesting science fiction author with his own take on issues like the Singularity and the imagined 'death of science fiction'. Just as nanotechnology fired imaginations a decade ago, now cognitive sciences and emergent systems are providing inspiration for the science-fictional muse.

Philip Chaston


ExtroBritannia November meeting: meet Nick Bostrom

The next ExtroBritannia lunch/get-together is scheduled for Saturday the 8th of November, in Oxford.

The title of the meeting is "Meet Nick Bostrom, transhumanist philosopher and WTA founder": Nick will give a presentation on transhumanism, followed by a Q&A session.

We will meet at 1pm for lunch at "Chiang Mai" a Thai restaurant in the tiny Kemp Hall passage, about 10 meters off 130 High Street. If it's your first time at an ExtroBritannia meeting I'll be the guy clearly displaying a copy of Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines" on the table. The talk will take place in a room at the Philosophy Faculty, but you won't be able to access the room unaccompanied, so it's essential to meet at the restaurant beforehand. We will be there until 2.30pm.

Chiang Mai, Kemp Hall Passage, 130A High Street, Oxford OX1 4DH
Tel: (01865) 202233

Click here for a MAP

(the Oxford train station is almost visible on the left of the map - watch out for "xford" in red letters)


This will be the first of our meetings to be run in conjunction with Alcor UK


ExtroBritannia's contribution to the Methuselah Mouse Prize

The Methuselah Mouse prize is an initiative designed to further the development of truly effective anti-aging interventions, by promoting public interest and involvement in research on mammalian life extension and by encouraging more such research to be done. At ExtroBritannia, we have decided to put our wallet where our mouth is and have collected a total of £245 ($409) toward the prize fund (see donors list).

Should you be interested in donating to the prize, you have two options:

1) Donate via ExtroBritannia: join our mailing list and let us know how much you want to pledge, or simply bring your donation along to one of our meetings.

2) Donate directly to the Mathuselah Mouse Prize and have your name proudly listed in the donors page.

Either way, do not miss this easy opportunity to do something useful to potentially extend your own life!


The big GM controversy

The Royal Society has released the first batch of results from the government-sponsored "Farm Scale Evaluations" of GM crops, and everyone is claiming victory...

According to Greenpeace, "UK research confirms that GM crops will harm the environment", while, according to CropGen "The Farm Scale Evaluations show that, contrary to what campaigners have been asserting for years, GM technology, if managed properly, can benefit the environment as well as farmers and consumers" The common sense conclusion seems to be that GM crops are not a single monolithic technology that will either kill us or save us, but a vast field of different technologies and applications. The study in question points out that two of the applications tested have a heavier impact on wildlife than conventional agriculture and that one (maize) has a lighter impact, which is exactly the point of Farm Scale Evalutation trials: to test which GM crops can be safely planted in the UK.

For the full Farm Scale Evaluation results from the Royal Society, click HERE


NEW: the ExtroBritannia documents section

Nanotechnoloy and nanoscience public consultation

In June 2003 the UK Government commissioned the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to carry out an independent study of likely developments and whether nanotechnology raises or is likely to raise new ethical, health and safety or social issues which are not covered by current regulation. An entry to the study was submitted by two ExtroBritannia regulars, highlighting our concerns that nanotechnology's development might suffer in a similar way to GM crops due to the action of idelogically motivated pressure groups.

The submission


Space Blogs

If you wish to look at space developments through a blogging mirror, Rand Simberg is as good a place to start as any commentator. One of his latest entries is an examination of US legislation to encourage private manned spaceflight. Look at his blogroll for related blogs.

A sparser dedicated site that sometimes follows the X Prize is www.spacefuture.com.

And don't forget that the Chinese will launch a manned space vehicle on October 15th, following the end of their latest elites meeting.


ExtroBritannia's October meeting: Nano & Bio - the road ahead

The next ExtroBritannia lunch/get-together is scheduled for Saturday the 11th of October at 12 noon in central London.

We will have two themes for the meeting, Nano & Bio: nanotechnological and biomedical interventions will both be needed to achieve our primary goal of a open-ended lifespan. Both technologies are under intense scrutiny right now and it is time we made our voice heard on the direction we want them to take.

NANO: In June 2003 the UK Government commissioned the Royal Society and the Royal Academy of Engineering to carry out an independent study of likely developments and whether nanotechnology raises or is likely to raise new ethical, health and safety or social issues which are not covered by current regulation. An entry to the study was submitted by two ExtroBritannia regulars, highlighting our concerns that nanotechnology's development might suffer in a similar way to GM crops due to the action of idelogically motivated pressure groups. The next stage of the study will involve NGO workshops and public consultations: this is an unmissible chance of influencing public policy regarding what is arguably the holy grail of transhumanist technologies.

For further info on the study click here

BIO: Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence: Reasons Why Genuine Control of Aging may be Foreseeable. That was the title of the recently held 10th Congress of the International Association of Biomedical Gerontology and a few ExtroBritannia regulars attedend. Come along for views, comments and info on what's happening in the field of practical life-extension research.

For further info on the conference and some online presentations click here

WHERE & WHEN---------------------------------

If you want to attend, you have three choices:

1) you can show up at the basement cafe' of Europe's largest bookshop (Waterstone's in Piccadilly, London) at 12,00

2) you can go directly to the restaurant for lunch ("Chowki", 1,00 o'clock). The table will be booked under my name (Fabio).

3) you can join us back at Waterstone's for coffee/drinks and further discussion at about 2,30/3,00 pm.

If it's your first time at an ExtroBritannia meeting I'll be the guy clearly displaying a copy of Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines" on the table we'll be sitting at.



From Piccadilly Circus, Waterstone's is about 50 yards down Piccadilly (on the left handside). Once inside take the stairs on
the right, down to the lower floor cafe'/restaurant: the cafe will be right in front of you. MAP


The restaurant is a five minutes walk from Waterstone's.

Chowki, 2-3 Denman Street, London W1D 7HA (Nearest Tube Station: Piccadilly Circus). MAP


Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence: Reasons Why Genuine Control of Aging may be Foreseeable

A number of presentations from the recently concluded 10th Congress of the International Association of Biomedical Gerontology (Cambridge, Sept. 2003) are now available online.

The presentations are being collected from as many speakers as possible for free download from this page. The first to become available are those in PowerPoint format, but a few speakers did not use PowerPoint and some other will only make their presentations available after the material presented has been published. Audio recordings of the conference are being converted to MP3 format and will soon be available online.


Not So Bad

Here is a moderate article from Yuval Levin, a staff member of the President's Council on Bioethics. If you remember them, they appeared to take a conservative and restrictive stance on biomedical and biotechnological developments, clothed in a partisan moral discourse.

Levin warns about scientism and the tendency of transhumanists to favour utopian solutions. They remind me of some of the critics that coined "Pragmatic Optimism" as a nuanced defence.

Still, the argument is positive:

They (or, to be precise, a subset among them) are the new utopians -- strident, rationalist, atheist, materialist proponents of a technical substitute for political authority. But they are also deeply committed to liberty, and this makes them different and better than most of the cold-blooded dreamers of old. We could certainly do worse.

TechCentral Station is always worth casting an eye over and the New Atlantis is a take it or leave it site.


WATCH THIS: Nick Bostrom of the World Transhumanist Association makes his case for radically extending the human lifespan.

A BBC website designed to mimick the workings of a court of law and dedicated to the debate about life-extension: "Welcome to the Court of Opinion... How long would you like to live? Advances in genetics may soon extend our lives by decades - for some conjuring hope of a life that goes on for centuries. But would you want to live forever?"

Nick Bostrom makes his case in this Real One Player clip and interviews Max More, founder of the Extropy Institute, transhumanist artist Natasha Vita-More and Gregory Stock, author of Redesigning Humans. Four expert witnesses contribute their opinion and it is interesting to note how the main opponents to life-extension seem to be the environmental campaigner and the theologian... Incourangly enough, though, the results of the vote are that 31% of respondents do NOT want to live forever, 3,5% don't know, and the rest voted yes, to various degrees.


Nanoscience: a discipline whose time has come - The Lancet calls for the submission of papers in the field of nanoscience.

The progress toward the development of full molecular nanotechnology continues to snowball. According to The Lancet, "Nanoparticles and nanocapsules could be effective delivery systems for drug and gene therapies. Nanostructures offer novel means for body or organ imaging. Nanotweezers and surgical tools only a few nanometres thick are already in development. Nanoprobes may be able to add diagnostic specificity to biopsy studies. And on the margins of nanoscience, there are even suggestions that nanorobots will be able to travel through the body searching out and clearing up diseases, such as a arterial atheromatous plaque. Clinical departments of nanoscience have sprung up in several universities."

Now The Lancet has published a call "for the submission of research articles, reviews, viewpoints, and hypothesis papers in the field of nanomedicine". The closing date for submissions is Dec 31, 2003 and a thematic issue of the journal is being planned for the spring of 2004.

[free registration required for full access to the online article]


Sunday Times: Science gets serious about elixir of life

An article on the top national broadsheet about the 10th Congress of the International Association of Biomedical Gerontology to be held from the 19th to the 23rd of September in Cambridge (see 29/07/03 message, below).

A very positive article and yet another step in the right direction in bringing life-extension research into the mainstream. Aubrey de Grey is quoted on the feasibility of practical life-extension for humans: "Researchers have already succeeded in dramatically prolonging the lives of some animal species, including mammals, and there is every reason to think the same can eventually be done for humans."

Note, however, the bone-chilling quote at the end of the article: according to a Francis Fernandes, head of research at actuaries Lane Clark & Peacock, clearly brought in to provide a pessimistic counterpoint: "Society might dictate that life has to finish at a certain age regardless of health - or that fertility must be strictly regulated."


Closing in on the Cure for Death

Time is on your side if you're under 30, suggests biogerontologist Aubrey de Grey in an optimistic discussion of life extension.

A long and insightful interview with the host of our September meeting (see below, message of the 17/08/03) is available here courtesy of the BetterHumans site.

The topics discussed: Life extension is coming soon; Should we extend our lifespan?; Pursuing the end of aging; Achieving the "impossible"; Going against the grain; Seven-point plan; Scientific and technological challenges; Social and political obstacles; Antiaging prize; Prospect of immortality; Getting involved.

Any questions? Ask de Grey in person on the 6th of September, in Cambridge!


Cryonics on ITV: "Don't Drop the Coffin"

A rare chance to see cryonics discussed on tv, even if only as part of a real-life ITV documentary. The series is a show featuring the day to day activities of funeral director Barry Albin of FA Albins & Sons. In the last episode, showing on Tuesday the 26th of August at 8,30 pm, Albins, the only undertaker to provide cryonic services in the UK, visits father-of-cryonics Robert Ettinger at the Cryonics Institute in Michigan, where his "clients" are shipped for storage after treatment.


FA Albins & Sons

The cryonics page at Albins

ITV have produced a Press Pack, available here in PDF format.


ExtroBritannia's September meeting: "The engineering approach to life-extension", with Aubrey de Grey

The next ExtroBritannia meeting is scheduled for Saturday the 6th of September 2003, in Cambridge. The theme of the get-together is "The engineering approach to life-extension". Life-extension researcher and promoter Aubrey de Grey will give a presentation on the subject, followed by an informal Q&A/discussion session.


We will meet at 12,00 noon at the Salisbury Arms, 76 Tenison Road, Cambridge CB4 1PA, not far from the train station, and will order lunch at about 12,30. If this is your first time at an ExtroBritannia meeting, look out for a copy of Ray Kurzweil's "The Age of Spiritual Machines" being displayed at the table we'll be sitting at.

If you cannot make it for lunch, you can still reach us at the Salisbury Arms until about 2pm, when we'll decamp for the university's department of genetics, for the presentation.


For further info on Aubrey de Grey and his work:


Engineered Negligible Senescence


A new article by Oxford University research fellow, transhumanist philosopher and WTA founder, Nick Bostrom.

Transhumanists vs. bioconservatives

"Transhumanism is a loosely defined movement that has developed gradually over the past two decades, and can be viewed as an outgrowth of secular humanism and the Enlightenment. It holds that current human nature is improvable through the use of applied science and other rational methods, which may make it possible to increase human health-span, extend our intellectual and physical capacities, and give us increased control over our own mental states and moods. Technologies of concern include not only current ones, like genetic engineering and information technology, but also anticipated future developments such as fully immersive virtual reality, machine-phase nanotechnology, and artificial intelligence."

"In opposition to this transhumanist view stand a bioconservative camp that argues against the use of technology to modify human nature. Prominent bioconservative writers include Leon Kass, Francis Fukuyama, George Annas, Wesley Smith, Jeremy Rifkin, and Bill McKibben. One of the central concerns of the bioconservatives is that human enhancement technologies might be "dehumanizing". The concern, which has been variously expressed, is that these technologies might undermine our human dignity or inadvertently erode something that is deeply valuable about being human but that is difficult to put into words or to factor into a cost-benefit analysis."

The full article on Nick Bostrom's site: In defense of posthuman dignity


Extropians and transhumanism get the UK tabloid treatment.

It's not quite the Sun, but the on-line computer magazine The Register certainly gives a good tabloid-like performance in this article on the recent "Pentagon Terror Casino" fiasco.

The picture painted by Register journalist Andrew Orlowski is not a pretty one: extropians are members of a "freakish" hi-tech cult. They are rich white males that spend their time plotting agaist those that are not like them: "such dunderheads will be left behind as [they] all lift off into space, making giddy whooping noises as [they] ascend. "

A few more quotes from the article, ranging from the misinformed to the patently absurd:

"A few years ago a bunch of extremely wealthy Californians met, liked the look of each other a lot, and formed a group called Extropians."

"[...] the Extropians devoted much of their disposable income (of which, there was much to dispose) to cryogenic research - deciding how to freeze themselves for eternal life, and deciding who amongst them Shall Be First."

"[…] the Extropian ideology [is] now blessed with Pentagon dollars"

A recent message on the extropian bulletin board, and the following thread, make a good first rebuttal and correct the most glaring misrappresentations.

What attracted the hack's attention to the extropians, was the fact that at the core of the ill-fated PAM (Policy Analysis Market) is "idea futures", the brainchild of known transhumanist Robin Hanson. The concept of idea futures, in a nutshell, is to harvest the market's ability to predict future events by allowing punters to "bet" on future events. The strenght of this approach is, quite simply, that it seems to work, but the idea was misunderstood and attacked as tasteless. Confronted with the bad publicity, the Pentagon abandoned the project. The fact that the whole point of the operation was to predict and prevent future terrorist attacks was conveniently forgotten by its detractors.

The background on PAM in a Reason article:
Betting On Terror: why futures markets in terror and assassinations are a good idea
by Ronald Bailey


Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence: Reasons Why Genuine Control of Aging may be Foreseeable

The International Association of Biomedical Gerontology 10th Congress - Queens' College, Cambridge, England 19-23 September 2003

The purpose of the International Association of Biomedical Gerontology is (1) to make the general public more aware of the potential of biomedical aging research to increase the span of healthy productive life and to decrease the social and economic problems of age; and (2) to promote greater communication among the worldwide community of individuals engaged in biomedical aging research.

A quick look at the conference program makes it obvious that this is an event of clear extropian interest, with presentations tackling both highly specialised subjects (e.g.: Senescence Marker Protein-30 (SMP30) as a novel anti-ageing molecule) and the broader social implications (e.g.: Social, Political, and Ethical Obstacles to Human Life Extension).

The full list of abstracts (over 150) is here.


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.

“Although 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,� 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.


Time to relaunch the blog: watch this space.