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Home > The Atkinson-Phoenix Nanotech Debate -- Page 3

The Atkinson-Phoenix Nanotech Debate - Page 3 - Emails

Commentary text by Chris Phoenix, except where otherwise noted. [Bracked Italics] indicates a correction. Italics used on text indicates a comment taken from an earlier email, written by the other person.

Last update: August 04, 2003.

Page 1: Overview
Page 2: Emails through June 27, 2003
Page 3: Emails through July 14
Page 4: Emails through August 4
Page 5: The wrap-up

June 29, from Chris Phoenix to Bill Atkinson
Subject: Re: Feasibility and desirability Re: Review Response

Hi Chris,

One thing I didn't boggle at was the nanoscale frictionless bearing.

OK, good. But realize that Drexler's frictionless bearings work on a somewhat different principle from biological bearings. Actually, Drexler describes at least three types: the single-bond bearing, the non-interlocking sheathed rod, and the sliding surface with force correction. Some of these are somewhat equivalent to biological bearings, some aren't. So five years ago, you could have said that Drexler's bearings were unproven. But then an experimentalist, not affiliated with Drexler, found what appeared to be frictionless-bearing behavior in nested nanotubes, giving preliminary confirmation to Drexler's sheath designs.

I will grant you that sheer fiddliness, by itself, is not necessarily a barrier to new technology.

Good, again. The question is whether the level of fiddliness can be chosen, or whether the idea is brittle. There are a few places where Drexler's proposals require brittle levels of fiddliness. You identified one of them below: the need for removing all contaminants. I'll get to that. But in many places, as I think you're starting to realize, the level of fiddliness can be chosen, and designs can be simplified until they are viable.

My problem with the MA technology you describe is that it's still completely imaginary: all calc and no grease. Workable technology, indeed any technology worth the name, has a fairly short cycle between drawing board and lathe: between idea and trial.

You have done a good job of demonstrating that molecular assemblers are not technology at all, but speculation. Now don't blame them for being poor examples of technology! It's far more pertinent to ask whether the speculation has value.

Consider this: Not long ago, a group of scientists got together to study a set of experimental data. They ran lots of calculations. They made some interesting hypotheses about very small phenomena. But the hypotheses couldn't be tested! So they went to the government and asked for billions of dollars to create a research center in Texas, to see whether their theory was right. The Superconducting Supercollider was never finished. But no one accused the particle physicists of being unscientific or of depending too much on theory.

You may find it very instructive to compare your criticism to this one:

"""""
A large number of drawings of the machinery are also in existence. It is supposed that these are complete to the extent of giving an account of every particular movement essential to the design of the engine; but, for the most part, they are not working drawings, that is to say, they are not drawings suited to be sent straight to the pattern or fitting shop, to be rendered in metal. There are also drawings for the erection of the engine, and there appears to be a complete set of descriptive notes of it .... There remains, however, a great deal to be done in the way of calculating quantities and proportions, and in the preparation of working drawings, before any work could actually be set in hand, even if the design be really complete. There is some doubt on this point as the matter stands, and it certainly would be unsafe to rely upon the design being really complete, until the working drawings had been got out. Mechanical engineers are well aware that no complex design can be trusted without this test, at least.

It was [the inventor's] rule, in designing mechanism, in the first place to work to his object, in utter disregard of any questions of complexity. This is a good rule in all devising of methods, whether analytical, mechanical, or administrative. But it leaves in doubt, until the design finally leaves the inventor's hands in a finished state, whether it really represents what is meant to be rendered in metal, or whether it is simply a provisional solution, to be afterwards simplified.

....
.... If all sorts of heavy work of this kind could be easily and quickly, as well as certainly, done, by merely selecting or punching a few Jacquard cards and turning a handle, not only much saving of labour would result, but much which is now out of human possibility would be brought within easy reach.

If intelligently directed and saved from wasteful use, such a machine might mark an era in the history of computation, as decided as the introduction of logarithms in the seventeenth century did in trigonometrical and astronomical arithmetic. Care might be required to guard against misuse ....
"""""

Have you guessed it yet? This is criticism written in 1878, explaining why the Committee didn't think it was a good idea to try to build Babbage's Analytical Engine at that time. The Analytical Engine was essentially a modern computer, with an ALU, memory, logic, I/O, and an instruction stream *including conditional branching*. It was first described in 1837. The criticism above appears at: http://www.fourmilab.ch/babbage/baas.html

An emulator has been written. In the judgement of the authors, the Analytical Engine "was mankind's first bold venture into the domain of vapourware." http://www.fourmilab.ch/babbage/authentic.html

Now... does Drexler deserve any harsher criticism than Babbage?

In fact the better the technology, the shorter the oscillatory period. It's a tennis game: imagine/try/iterate. MA work seems to have stalled in the Imagine half-cycle. Thus denying itself any feedback.

MA work has not stalled; the reason the foundational work has not changed its conclusions is that it has not yet needed to. (But of course it has been improving; the nanofactory in Nanosystems is better than the vat of assemblers in Engines, and Merkle's designs are in several ways even simpler and more practical.)

And it has not been denying itself feedback. In fact, it has been begging for feedback. Whenever we find a result that's even halfway relevant, like the sliding buckytubes, we compare our predictions with it. I think we can be pardoned for patting ourselves on the back when we find, time after time, that the experiments support Drexler's work (and by extension Merkle's, Freitas', and mine).

And not all trying has to be physical. Thought experiments have to be done carefully and treated with skepticism, but can be useful to criticize a design or increase confidence in it.

it's evolved wilder and wilder designs - absolutely none of which have been put to the test. It was my growing annoyance in realizing this that really led to my complete loss of patience with Eric Drexler. The guy really has dispensed, it seems to me, with the necessary reality checks.

It's evolved more and more detailed projections of what might be possible. Some of them do get pretty wild, and we know that. But some of them look like basic engineering, and it's annoying to see them all tarred with the same brush.

There is a crucial distinction here. It's the difference between saying, "This design will work"--necessary for any technology--and "This level of performance is achievable and practical"--which is all that's necessary for policy discussion. Drexler's work aimed to demonstrate the basis for the performance and utility claims he was making. It's not simple to decide whether a criticism of "It won't work exactly that way" is sufficient, or whether the much more difficult criticism is necessary: "Nothing like that is likely to work."

You say Drexler has dispensed with reality checks. But there are reality checks all through Nanosystems. He doesn't merely say that his computer will make very few errors; he lists all known sources of noise, adds them up, and figures out how often a rod will jump out of position. That's a reality check! It doesn't guarantee that the computer will work, of course. But it shows that if built to spec, it will probably be sufficiently reliable.

As have you. You tell me your recent work has "solved problems." No: it's only done sums and solved equations. A true solution requires demonstration:

I disagree that a solution requires demonstration. If you don't know how to find my house, and I give you directions over the phone, the problem is largely solved before you ever get in the car. Of course, this depends on the quality of the directions: "Turn left at the big green tree" is less useful than "go 3.1 miles and turn left on Smith St." And yes, I might give very precise but wrong directions. And a bridge might be washed out. But directions are more brittle than engineering: there's usually a way to make something work, as long as it doesn't violate physical law.

and that in turn demands that fateful encounter with reality, in the person of the nanocosm. Elsewhere both you and Drexler like to cite the Manhattan Project, with its endless calcs and forecasts. But the Project met the description I set out above, for an actual technology: a high-frequency iteration between theory and practice, paper and nature, screen and reality.

We don't have anything like a Manhattan Project for MNT yet. We do not cite the MP as a comparison for what we're doing today. Certainly not! We cite it as an example of how R&D can be greatly accelerated if enough money and smart people are thrown at a well-defined problem. At the start of the MP, there was a lot of untested theory. Today, there's a lot of untested MNT theory. At the start of the MP, they did not know which of three ways would be used to separate the uranium--and in fact, one was found to be unworkable and abandoned early on. But the Bomb became a possibility as soon as the nuclear chain reaction was discovered in, what, 1939? Pure theory, that.

We might equate Feynman's speech with the discovery of radioactivity, and Drexler's PhD thesis or Nanosystems with the chain-reaction theory. An immense amount of work still needs to be done to determine whether a bomb will require pounds or tons of uranium, and whether the GNP of the country can pay for the separation. But we think it's possible, and may well be quite powerful.

Kept isolated, untested and therefore unproven, the greatest calcs in the world are infertile. .... Come back to me when you start your shop work. Till then I'll stay a skeptic.

Skeptics are good. We need skeptics. Please stay a skeptic even after the shop work is started. But Nanocosm went far beyond skepticism.

You make it sound like we *want* the work to be kept isolated and untested. Not at all! We're begging for feasibility studies! We would love to see experimental work on any aspect of Drexler's ideas. But where will the money come from, with a variety of people going out of their way to debunk everything associated with the theory? You're asking us to fight with both hands tied behind our backs.

It would take a very small fraction of the NNI's budget to, for example, help Freitas and Merkle get their books out faster. It wouldn't take much to start a peer-reviewed Journal of Molecular Nanotechnology in which they could publish, rather than having to produce saleable books for every idea they want to present. And there are a variety of experiments we could do right now to verify some of the predictions and assumptions in Nanosystems.

Don't do your best to cut our funding and destroy our credibility, and simultaneously blame us for not doing experimental work.

No doubt you'll say Yes, but it's a preliminary: we're coming to the shop work. .... But something admitted to be vital, and not yet done, in a way suspends dialogue.

Depends on the purpose of the dialogue. If the purpose is to discuss whether Utility Fog or Vasculoid are feasible, then yes, there's no way to answer that yet. But if the purpose is to discuss policy options in a variety of plausible scenarios... well, that can be done, and should be done, starting now. We don't need to agree that it will definitely, absolutely work. Just that it might, and that some big country may find it plausible enough to try to do it. If we can reach that point, we can start talking about which scenarios are plausible--and at that point, we can probably agree even about a lot of the technical issues.

That being said, I have to admit - Gad, this is dragged out of me! - that some of your ideas are conceptually fascinating. I like the way the extreme complexity and intricacy of your world view's design and construction may be - I say, May Be! - offset by the extreme simplicity of its operating methodology.

Yep. You've grasped a major point here.

There seems a parallel between your view here and the main point I was trying to make in my CA discussion: ie. that at the nanoscale, manufacturing success absolutely demands a stripped-down, cut-rate, compressed, streamlined minimality in directive algorithms. Otherwise the whole concept of the MA collapses under the weight of its own complexity.

You are right. But diamondoid design can be compressed quite a bit; instead of specifying billions of operations or millions of atoms, just specify a few volumes to fill with diamond lattice. It's not quite that simple, but you get the idea.

That said, by limiting the design to diamondoid, we are throwing away large amounts of diversity and functionality. Just like digital circuits throw away large amounts of information. Diamondoid nanobots aren't quite "at the bottom" yet: there's still room below them for more heterogeneous atomic structures. And maybe a paradigm that hasn't been invented yet will allow us to build such things in a useful way: some sort of evolution-in-place, maybe.

But there are uses for non-complex machines. Just as an automobile engine is hundreds of times more powerful than a horse, but far dumber, a cell-sized diamondoid nanobot will be far dumber than a cell--but far more powerful in certain very limited ways.

Now the crucial question is, can this idiot-savant paradigm, this engineering practice writ small, this fiddly limited artificial digital system--can it close the loop and create duplicates of itself in a compact system? I think we already agree that this is, in fact, the crucial question: if the answer is yes, then diamondoid nanobots may be quite valuable. If no, then of course they are pointless.

But I think you and I can also reach a tentative agreement about whether such loop-closing is impossible, plausible, or likely to work. We can, for example, discuss my claim that the control algorithms can be a lot less stripped-down if they are fed in from outside, with minimal local computation. Of course, to actually gain efficiency, the controls have to be applied with massive parallelism--this requires modular design, but we're already good at that, especially in software.

Another reality-based question. Can you really create a nanoscale clean room, without a single bit of unwanted crud in it, ever? Because a single atom in the wrong place at the wrong time would gum up the works. This may be your tallest technological order. Again, I'll believe when I see. But I grant (aghh! the tooth is pulled) it may be conceptually possible. Nice calc.

This is a brittle point in the design. It breaks down into five sub-points; you probably know much of this, but I'll explain it for the readers.

1) Can a small cleanroom create a bigger cleanroom? This is quite easy: just make a collapsed flexible envelope, remove it, and unfold it.

2) Can the mechanochemical apparatus handle a variety of chemicals without ever letting one fly away from the binding site? This is largely unknown, but there are quite a few chemistry options, and for some of them, we already know the strength of the binding method, and know that it will break only extremely rarely. And if we run into trouble, reducing the temperature of the whole factory will make a lot more options work. So this sub-question is not too brittle.

3) Can an assembler or factory take in supplies without contamination? This depends on sliding seals manufactured to atomic precision. The answer is probably yes, but we need to see more work on sorting rotors.

4) (optional) Can a factory expel product without contamination? This depends again on sliding seals that don't even let atoms through. Again, this appears quite possible. The best theory we have says that two perfectly flat diamond surfaces pressed together won't even let helium through.

5) Can the initial clean room be created for bootstrapping? Note that it probably doesn't need to be very big. Also note that we can put getters inside it: bits of very reactive material that will react with contaminants and bind them. I suspect that filling a chamber with molten sodium, freezing the walls, and draining the middle by vacuum to create a cavity, would leave that cavity quite clean. If your apparatus were rugged and unreactive and was not "wetted" by liquid sodium, you might be able to mount it in the middle of the chamber, and have it usable and very, very clean when the sodium retreated. This is probably a silly idea, but it can probably be improved on.

Another possibility--clunky but workable in theory--is to develop a technology that can make tight cleanrooms and useful bootstrapping apparatus but does not require perfectly clean working conditions. It wouldn't have to be very strong, and could use bigger feedstock--might not even use covalent joining. Have the semi-cleanroom make another with a small fraction of the volume. Then unfold it and repeat. Eventually the cleanroom will contain on average less than one atom of contaminant. (I think this is proposed in Nanosystems.)

But again: Why bother? The super-strong materials to which you refer are already being achieved by self-assembly, using sputtering (AIST Tsukuba) or other...

Super-strong materials are only one reason. There's also super-compact computers and motors. If Drexler's designs are even close to right, we can shrink most of today's machinery by a linear factor of at least a million: a volume factor of 10^18. Cover the continental U.S., coast to coast, with six-story buildings full of machinery. Shrink it by a million times, and it's more or less equivalent to a thin plastic dropcloth. That's more complexity of machinery than exists in the world today--and Drexler estimates it could be built in an hour for a dollar.

It's as if
you've designed a nutcracker that works by firing a hammer into orbit, then falls to Earth to smash the walnut. Even if it's possible, why bother? It's unnecessarily complicated. Worse, even from the eng-calc viewpoint, it's inelegant - it doesn't tap into that organizing information that seems evenly dissolved throughout nature. Why compel when you can persuade? The molecular assembler seems nothing more than a steam-propelled gondola, or that orbital nutcracker.

Or a Horseless Carriage, or the Analytical Engine. Let me quote from the skeptical committee again: these people knew what it was for. http://www.fourmilab.ch/babbage/baas.html

"This necessity of jumping discontinuously from one figure to another is the fundamental distinction between calculating and numbering machines on the one hand, and millwork or clockwork on the other. A parallel distinction is found in pure mathematics, between the theory of numbers on the one hand, and the doctrine of continuous variation, of which the Differential Calculus is the type, on the other. A calculating machine may exist in either case. .... it can either calculate any single result, or tabulate any consecutive series of results just as well. But the absence of any speciality of adaptation is one of the leading features of the design."

I love that last sentence. it sums up exactly what makes all the design complexity worthwhile.

That's assuming, which I do not believe, that it can ever be shown to work. For example, I don't see how you can claim the nanoassembler will have universal application when it will work only on, and with, stiff materials. "Wide variety of parts and properties"? Only if they're stiff!

I don't think I claimed universal application. (The phrase "universal assembler" was unfortunate, and I hope no one's seriously using it anymore.) I did say "wide variety of materials and properties." Humans consist of materials with properties as diverse as hair, muscles, and corneas. But they're all made of cells. Spring steel is extremely stiff. But it makes watch springs. A ten-nanometer diamond rod is certainly stiff enough at the ten-nanometer scale to be manufactured by mechanochemistry. But if you make it a micron-long beam, and connect the beams in a truss, the properties of the truss will depend heavily on how the beams are connected. It could be very stiff, or very elastic.

Yes, there's a limitation here. You can't make squishy nanoscale parts (unless you can stiffen them during manufacture, with some kind of nano-jig or nano-anvil or...) But from a human-product point of view, where millions of nanoparts fit into the volume of a single cell, you can certainly make the product have a wide range of mechanical properties, including programmable properties.

We could throw rocks at each other forever on this one.

Actually, I think we're making good progress. I think the only rock I threw this time was that it's unfair for you to try to destroy our funding base while complaining that we're not doing more work.

And I think I fielded your rocks pretty well. Of course, I have not completely answered your objections, and I won't be able to. As long as we can agree on which issues are unsolved, and whether or not they make nanobots unlikely or impossible, we will have accomplished something.

If you are a skeptic, you will only have a finite number of rocks. If you are a debunker, of course, you will dig up more rocks when you run low, and eventually be reduced to snowballs when the lab results start coming in. But I think, despite first impressions, that you're not a debunker. In that case, this conversation is definitely worthwhile.

Once we have classified the objections into rocks, gravel, and dust, then we can discuss the implications. What are the chances that within 30 years, we will be able to pack the combined complexity of the world's machines (circa 2000) into a suitcase? And what are the implications if things actually work out this way? But it's probably a little bit too early to get into policy discussions: we should wait till you start to run low on rocks.

That's why I think my later response is going to surprise you. I think this whole issue could give you folks your only workable chance to get the respect that the mainstream scientific communities, and I too, have so far denied you.

I'm looking forward to it! Respectability would be very nice. I think it was lost when Drexler committed the scientific sin of writing a popular book about his research and its implications, and has never been regained. (If he'd never written Engines or founded Foresight Institute, would you have been nearly so annoyed at Nanosystems?) At this point, any suggestions would be very welcome.

Chris


July 2, from Bill Atkinson to Chris Phoenix
Subject: Re: Dialog page...

Okay, Chris! Here's the reply I've been hinting about, the one that I think will surprise you.

It occurs to me that at least some of our issues have to do as much with how content is presented, as with actual content. It's not uncommon for appearance to meld into reality, even in science - which can be far less objective than it likes to pretend.

You referred earlier to certain areas of my expertise; I responded that these especially include marketing communications. So: here's how I'd advise you folks in the molecular-assembler movement to further your cause, if you had come to my firm (Draaken Science Communications Inc.) as a client. I offer this in a friendly and professional way; use whatever you think you can. If you do act on any of my suggestions, by that degree my objections to the M-A movement will be attenuated. I admit that often, "free advice is worth the price"; but chew over what I say - sometimes the most valuable things you'll ever hear come from your opponents!

I think we both agree that the M-A movement (which I'll henceforth abbreviate MAM) has a credibility problem in the larger world beyond its own adherents. Slag me if you will, but I'm not the only person whose wig keeps flipping at the MAM's claims. For example, see the Wired Magazine article at http://www.wired.com/news/technology/0,1282,59268,00.html - which reports how mainstream nanoscience and nanotech are treating Drexler as "the crazy uncle in the attic."

This situation, including the opposition from observers such as myself who began their investigations with an open mind, puzzles and frustrates you folks. Given the extent of your technical education, and the importance of the subject matter, you can't understand why you "don't get no respect." As I report in Nanocosm, the Swiss have publicly announced their intent to make breadbox-sized factories. Moreover, rigorous current research in nanoscience (as we have already noted) appears to corroborate some MAM predictions made on the basis of a priori theoretical calculations - e.g. zero-friction bearings. What's going on?

I see a historical parallel here. A hundred years ago, electricity was the First World's hot new technology. It had already transformed the city, and was about to be rolled out into the country to transform the farm. It was being applied not only to save labor in known areas, lights and motors, but to do new things hardly imagined before, such as project moving images.

At the same time, and based on these undeniable achievements, things were being claimed for electricity that were wildly improbable or even outright wrong. One magazine ad c.1911 shows a muscled male wearing the Supreme Electric Belt, with the slogan: "I Am A Man Once More!" - code for curing impotence. Electricity would solve all problems, end all poverty, make wars obsolete, and vastly extend our life-span.

Sound familiar? So here's my first set of MarCom recommendations for MAM:

(1) Tone down your predictions. At the very least, isolate them in some special-interest group or think tank, and clearly label them as speculations. Avoid the present indicative active verb tense in these statements: Is, Does, etc. - and the future tense as well: Will, Must. Make it clear when speculation is speculation. Merkle's keynote at San Jose last year ("Hello, doctor? My heart's stopped") came off like stand-up comedy.

(2) Sever all links with the corpsicle crowd. Perhaps they provide you with moral and/or financial support; but they also have made, and continue to make, the entire MAM a laughingstock among most mainstream scientists. While Dr. Drexler's vision for nanotech extends to such miracles as corpse revival, and he has to date been unafraid to express this, it seems time for him to keep his longer-term projections to himself. They do him, and his MAM, no good: quite the contrary. They make him sound like a preacher on a soapbox in the park.

(3) Give the MAM a single voice. This might be the Foresight Institute; it might not. But as long as a babble of voices arises, each purporting to speak for the MAM, you are not going to be heard clearly and taken seriously. I hereby nominate Chris Phoenix for World MAM President. He's sober, eloquent, passionate, informed, historically knowledgeable. Chris, you could do for the MAM generally what you've been able to do in my case: turn obdurate, exasperated ridicule into sober second thought. Before I encountered you, I'd have said that was impossible. The MAM needs your voice front and center.

(4) Watch the little tricks that tick off mainstream scientists. One the most irritating things the MAM can do to a working researcher is to post his or her work on a MAM website, as if to say: "See! We're as legitimate as these guys!" I ran into this at Nanotech Planet last year. Colleagues of scientists cited by the IMM, FI, etc. were astounded that their colleagues' research was being referenced to support aims with which the researcher would almost certainly disagree. The MAM must get the researcher's permission for every citation it makes. I know these data are in the public domain; but the MAM's use of them to date reeks of special pleading. Again, you do your own cause no good here.

(5) Get beyond the endless bloody calculations: Check in with reality: Do your own research. Do it with as much rigor as the best science anywhere can claim. Do what the great researchers do: attempt everything to disprove your own cherished notions. Don't stop the instant you find a fact or two that seems to support your views, and claim victory. Test your own research data to destruction, or try to. Publish only those you aren't able to destruct. This will require fundraising; but the more genuine R&D you do, the more mainstream you'll become; the more grants you'll get; the more you'll attract the respect and interest of mainstream science. Don't be afraid to test your dreams.

(6) I say it again: the MAM must modify its claims. Many of these now border on the outrageous. Think what you like; get together in SIGs and brainstorm a future as wild as you want to. But the face you put toward the world must be far more sober, even dull. As Tom Theis of IBM notes, almost no innovation succeeds unless it restricts its attempted influence to one business level up or down. Make a new and better car tire, and you may earn a billion dollars. Announce that all wheeled vehicles are irrelevant because you're going to come up with teleportation, and you'll hit the wall - and get ridiculed at the same time.

(7) Tying in with the above: greatly shorten the feedback interval between experiment and prediction. Saying "give us ten years" - or twenty, or a hundred - is like saying "Keep the faith: God is on our side." Whether it's true or not is, in practical terms, irrelevant. Such an approach can never work. It's this insistence on long-term belief, in the absence of rigorously demonstrated incremental progress in accumulated facts, that gets the MAM laughed out of court most loudly. A single fact, viz. the recent demonstration of the frictionless nanobearing, will (if properly used) get the MAM more credibility than all the cries of "immortality-is-coming." One sees this all the time in the business world. The most highly regarded companies make careful forecasts, then meet or exceed them.

More later!

Best, Bill


July 2, from Chris Phoenix to Bill Atkinson
Subject: Re: Dialog page...

Thanks for this reply. I'm not surprised, but I'm grateful that you're trying to help.

Should we include this thread in the published dialog? I'm not sure that it'll advance the discussion of the technical stuff, and it'll contain a higher percentage of dirty laundry than the rest of the discussion. I'm inclined to leave it out.

Many of your recommendations don't surprise me. They all seem to have merit for geting MNT more accepted scientifically. Of course, some of them are difficult, and two of them (4 and 7) appear to conflict.

Your recommendations also don't seem to take into account one crucial factor: Much of the reason for talking about MNT at all is to talk about its policy implications, and that can't be done without talking about what an assembler/nanofactory would make possible. And that requires talking at least ten years out, and talking not just about basic research but about plausible extrapolations of that research. As we talk about this, please keep in mind that the primary goal of many of us is preparing for a potentially dangerous technology--though being seen as scientifically plausible is important for several reasons.

It may be that it's too early to talk about what nanobots can do, before we've shown that they're likely to work as claimed. But at this point, enough work has been done to justify the concern--it's "might" or (sometimes) "probably", not "will", but some of the concerns are definitely worth talking about even in the "might" stage. So I think that here too, the problem is one of communication. The question is, is it possible to both improve the respectibility of MNT's science, and push the activism, at the same time? Or is there some fundamental law of communication that says this can't work? It clearly didn't work for Drexler to tackle both simultaneously, but how much of that was inevitable and how much was simply his particular methods?

There are at least three problems with trying to cozy up to the scientists. First, the MAM has already pissed them off and made them uncomfortable. Recently Drexler has tried (starting with the open letter to Smalley) to force down the throats of several scientists the fact that they're saying false things about MNT. (As I write this, he's just sent a second open letter to Smalley.) Before that, apparently citing scientists' work pissed them off (I'll get back to this one). And of course the wilder claims and associations have made them want to distance themselves from the whole movement. (I'm reminded of the early history of the railroad, in which an engineer was ridiculed in front of Congress simply by getting him to admit that trains might in the future go as fast as 40 MPH.)

Second, "Science advances one funeral at a time." At this point, it could take decades for scientists to change their tune. From a policy point of view, we don't have decades.

Third, scientists working on non-MNT nanotech will be protective of their funding.

Given all of the above, it's really tempting to think that the overall best strategy is to cut our losses and bypass the scientists. Of course that's probably what got Drexler in trouble in the first place. Mind you, he didn't bypass the science--just the scientists. But he was probably in trouble the moment he published Engines. Anyway, I'm a bit skeptical of the idea that the MAM can rehabilitate itself quickly by following your advice. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try.

Now, to your specific recommendations:
1) Tone down predictions. Trouble is that we're speaking in many different contexts. Merkle was preaching to the converted--I guarantee that to many in the audience, what he said was pretty much plausible as stated. Futuristic of course. But nothing prevents it from working.

That said, yes, we should perhaps be more careful to speak to the lowest common denominator when talking to mixed audiences. More about this in Cryonics.

2) Sever links with cryonics. This one is hard. Merkle is a Director of Alcor! Basically, we'd have to sever links with Merkle--I don't think that would be fair or appropriate. And beyond that, a lot of nanotech people (including me) think that "curing severe frostbite" is more accurate than "reviving corpses" (unless defibrillators also revive corpses)--many of them are signed up, and IIRC Drexler recently signed up as well (but don't quote me on this). We can't get everyone to stay quiet about it.

If someone is signed up for Alcor, but doesn't make a big deal of it, does that condemn them? What if they give a talk at an Alcor conference? Does it matter if they structure it around science rather than hype? And do you think cryonics will get any more respectable when they manage to revive a frozen mammal?

I'm trying to imagine convincing every major person associated with MNT to sever their association with cryonics. Won't happen. So I'm looking for the minimum necessary. Is recantation necessary, or just a tasteful silence? And what counts as silence?

Which leads us to 6) Modify and tone down claims. Yes, there's a difference between brainstorming and making claims. And yes, we need to keep that in mind. So... there's a continuum from physics application (frictionless bearings) to extrapolation of capabilities (Nanosystems) to preliminary design of possible products (Respirocytes, Utility Fog) to claims of radical change (Engines) to good science fiction (David Marusek) to bad science fiction (Kevin J. Anderson). Where do we need to draw the line? You said something about labeling all speculation as speculation. To some extent, that can be done. But not completely, not with so many people doing so many kinds of writing.

What do you think of Robert Freitas' work? Respirocytes, Vasculoid, Nanomedicine... all far-future stuff, all dependent on diamondoid nanobots, but carefully worked out and conservatively engineered. He gets his papers published in mainstream medical journals. For example, here's the abstract for his Respirocytes paper, published in Artificial Cells, Blood Substitutes, and Immobil. Biotech.

"""""
Molecular manufacturing promises precise control of matter at the atomic and molecular level, allowing the construction of micron-scale machines comprised of nanometer-scale components. Medical nanomachines will be among the earliest applications. The artificial red blood cell or "respirocyte" proposed here is a bloodborne spherical 1-micron diamondoid 1000-atm pressure vessel with active pumping powered by endogenous serum glucose, able to deliver 236 times more oxygen to the tissues per unit volume than natural red cells and to manage carbonic acidity. An onboard nanocomputer and numerous chemical and pressure sensors enable complex device behaviors remotely reprogrammable by the physician via externally applied acoustic signals. Primary applications will include transfusable blood substitution; partial treatment for anemia, perinatal/neonatal and lung disorders; enhancement of cardiovascular/neurovascular procedures, tumor therapies and diagnostics; prevention of asphyxia; artificial breathing; and a variety of sports, veterinary, battlefield and other uses.
"""""

He uses all the wrong tenses, going straight from "Molecular manufacturing promises..." to "Medical nanomachines will be..." to ""respirocyte" proposed here is..." But I hear that he's respected even among people who disapprove of Drexler. What's he doing differently? Maybe it's what you said: "But the face you put toward the world must be far more sober, even dull." I think Freitas works very hard to present just that kind of face. Proving once more that the medium is the message.

I hadn't realized that sober and dull were actual virtues in the scientific world. Rigorous, logical, well-researched--yes, of course. But sober and dull? Yet now that you say it, I can see the truth of it. But then how can one be eloquent, passionate, and dull at the same same time?

3) Give MAM a single voice. The phrase "herding cats" comes to mind. This may simply be impractical. I agree this is a problem. In fact, on the science side, there's a variety of opinions even among people who think nanobot/mechanochemical science is sound, about how to bootstrap them, what they should be made of, and what their capabilities will be. That ought to be OK--it shows that we're not religiously tied to a particular idea. On the futurist/policy side, we have a credibility gap, caused in part by a variety of opinions (some of them weird), and in part by a failure of explanation.

I think the failure of explanation may be key here. There's really nothing that ties together all the work that's been done into one comprehensible body of understanding. Many, perhaps most, of the nanobot opponents still think that shallow criticism is sufficient. We (in general, not you and me) would advance the dialog immeasurably if we could just start from an agreement that there is no simple way to disprove nanobots. But judging by the simplistic arguments I see everywhere, we're still a ways off from that. And those who try a simple attack, and discover it's not that easy, generally only become quiet--so we have little evidence to show that the attacks have failed. Meanwhile, new people are delivering the same attacks, and we keep giving the same arguments. And our arguments are taken out of context and used as the basis for further attacks. It'd be nice if the anti-nanobot side would start saying, "Hey, we have to be more sophisticated here--these simple attacks aren't valid anymore." But invalid or not, the attacks succeed in maintaining a level of suspicion and distrust, and taking a lot of our time to answer them--which is exactly what many anti-nanobot people want, and validity be damned.

Sorry--it gets frustrating after a while. Anyway, do you have any idea how to shift the grounds of the debate so that simple pseudo-physics attacks are generally recognized as invalid?

Also, thanks for your very flattering nomination of me as World MAM President. I guess lack of sober second thought is exactly what I was complaining about a couple of paragraphs ago. I hope you're right that I could generate sober second thought in general, but I know my limitations. There's a huge difference between conversation and speechmaking. I'm an excellent tutor, but I'm not sure I'd be a good teacher. And I know I'm no good as a demagogue, or arguing against demagogues. I also suspect that you're quite unusual in your willingness to change your opinions and admit you were wrong or un-knowledgeable.

Speaking of mediums and messages and contexts... You said, "As Tom Theis of IBM notes, almost no innovation succeeds unless it restricts its attempted influence to one business level up or down." But MNT is not an innovation. It's a paradigm that will, if all goes well, spawn zillions of innovations. Compare it to polymer chemistry. It can be viewed as an innovative way to do chemistry. Or a source of new materials. Or an integral part of almost every product today. Or a consumer of crude oil. Or a way of extending engineering capability. Back when nylon was discovered, someone could have said, "Wow, imagine all the things we can make with this! This will be huge! Industry should pay attention to this, and figure out how to develop it and invest in it!" How this would be received would depend on who was saying it, and how, and to whom. I guess I'm drifting off topic. What I started to say is that plastic's influence is not limited to "one business level up or down." Nanotech won't be either. But I recognize that this has to be said carefully--much more carefully than we've been saying it--with attention to style, tone, speaker, audience, etc. But at this point, we have many audiences listening to everything we say--we can't tune it to everyone. And many of them are actively looking for statements to use against us.

It was hard for Drexler to get it right, developing this amazing new paradigm, and trying to talk about it as a scientist, activist, educator, and maybe even booster all at once. It's easy to see how he could set people's teeth on edge. But it's also hard to see how a single-voice MAM can work. We have battles to fight on at least four fronts.

(4) Don't cite other people's research. This one surprises me. And I suspect that the problem is more with the delivery than with the mere fact of citing the research. For example, I can say, "The recent pick-and-place of covalent silicon with AFM demonstrates that Smalley's criticisms are too broad." Can't I? But it's a little more questionable to say, "The recent .... demonstrates could be considered an example of a mechanochemical process." And definitely bad to say, "The recent .... shows that mechanochemistry works." But this distinction is subtle, and probably a lot of MNT people don't get it. The question is, if we do it right, will the scientists get it, and not be annoyed? Or is the situation so bad that any MNT person making any mention of non-MNT research is likely to be annoying?

" .... as if to say: "See! We're as legitimate as these guys!" " I really don't think that was the intention. If that's how it comes across, then we should probably be changing how we present it. Unless, as I said, any mention whatsoever is likely to be annoying--in which case, as always, the temptation to say "The hell with them" is very strong. (But I do recognize that it's pointless to work for scientific legitimacy while pissing off scientists.)

(5) Get beyond the endless bloody calculations: Check in with reality: Do your own research. Do it with as much rigor as the best science anywhere can claim. Do what the great researchers do: attempt everything to disprove your own cherished notions.

In many respectable fields, endless bloody calculations do count as research. Everything from astrophysics to particle physics to computational chemistry to complexity theory... and the best MNT workers do their damnedest to make sure that they're applying the equations and constants correctly, within the limits of the research that the equations and constants were based on. Everything in Nanosystems and Nanomedicine is tied to physical research. And most of the ties are not brittle: if a constant is wrong by a factor of two, or maybe even ten, the concept can still be made to work.

IMHO, saying that we are out of touch with reality because we haven't done enough experiments is a blanket dismissal, not a serious criticism. How can we get across the idea that yes, we really do know what we're doing; we haven't simply slapped together equations that look nice and support our views, but every part of our work is defensible and just waiting for replication and criticism?

Don't stop the instant you find a fact or two that seems to support your views, and claim victory.

Is that how it looks? Then we have a PR problem, not a science problem. We have not stopped. We have not claimed victory. The fact or two is not to prove we're right, but to prove we're plausible. Remember, a lot of people still think our claims are ridiculously implausible. If we can show that buckytubes are frictionless and silicon can be moved atom by atom, then at least some of our ideas are demonstrably worthwhile.

There are two purposes to harping on these "fact or two". One is to address specific criticisms of impossibility. This, as I said above, ought to be valid. The other is to beg for serious consideration of the rest of the material--something we have been consistently denied. This latter is not good logic, but we sometimes get pretty frustrated at the lack of worthy criticism. I think many scientists, to some degree, do treat our work as plasticine time machines--despite the fact that we're not building time machines, and not using plasticine. Being shut out of the scientific process altogether--denied the criticism and/or replication that is necessary for scientific testing of ideas--perhaps we are too eager to use these scraps of validation. But note this: we're not trying to use them to prove we're right. We're hoping that if enough of our extrapolations turn out to be on target, people will start taking us seriously. So we're not trying to claim victory--just to establish ourselves as being in the running.

Test your own research data to destruction, or try to.

We can't prove a negative. As long as people want to believe nanobots can't work, they will always be able to find grounds for criticism. And the criticism we get now is at a level far more superficial than the work we've already done! What's our incentive for doing more work? We have already been denied participation in the scientific process.

Publish only those you aren't able to destruct. This will require fundraising; but the more genuine R&D you do, the more mainstream you'll become; the more grants you'll get; the more you'll attract the respect and interest of mainstream science. Don't be afraid to test your dreams.

This process would take too long for the activism side. By the time we reestablished validity, recruited lab researchers, got funding, did research, published results, and repeated this cycle a few times, it would be 2015 if not 2030. Meanwhile, some country pulls a nanobot Manhattan Project.

If it seems like we're dreaming, or afraid to test our predictions, then again we have a PR problem.

7) "Tying in with the above: greatly shorten the feedback interval between experiment and prediction." So, make predictions that can be demonstrated quickly, then demonstrate them.

Well, the predictions have already been made. We can't very well retract them. (And again, we need to use them for the activism.)

I think that even without experimental verification, the work would hold up pretty well under the scientific process. I think you're asking us to bootstrap a whole field ourselves. That's too big a job. Science can't be done in a vacuum. We've already done a hell of a lot of work that is ready for review--has been ready for a decade. How much do we have to do? I just don't believe that lack of experimental verification is the root of the problem. People who want to dismiss us would find it just as easy no matter how much experimental work we had done.

You said, "A single fact, viz. the recent demonstration of the frictionless nanobearing, will (if properly used) get the MAM more credibility than all the cries of "immortality-is-coming." "

Given what you said in 4) about how it's annoying to researchers to be cited in connection with MA's, how can we use these facts? We've been trying--but that just gets scientists annoyed at us.

At some point, we have to make the leap from science to policy. Going back to the continuum from physics to bad sci-fi, policy has to be extrapolated at least from device capabilities, with some reference to possible products to make the discussion concrete and comprehensible. Science ought to reach at least to the applied-physics level, and to some extent, the device capabilities as well. But there's all sorts of distinctions that must be made and carefully preserved, or we'll be seen as saying "Science predicts Utility Fog". Hmmm... I wonder if that's why the scientists are so uptight at us? I never thought of that, but it makes sense.

So there you have it. We think we've been doing science, but the scientists won't play with us. We think our policy work is reasonable too, but that may have made the scientists more uncomfortable. We have been trying to do too much, and a lot of confusions have arisen, and we have not been good at clearing them up. Ironically, by making people uncomfortable, we have attracted much unfounded criticism of our science--when the problem is in our PR. And at this point, however we attempt to fix it, we will run into egos and personalities on both sides.

You have given advice on how to play by the rules (of the scientific establishment) and become mainstream researchers. I'd like to suggest two other goals, and see if either of them is approachable.

First, get it recognized that the basic diamondoid mechanochemistry nanobot theory is not flaky, brittle, or fraudulent--that all the obvious criticisms have been answered, and it will take serious work to challenge it. If this can be accomplished, it'll lead straight to the sober second thought.

Second, make clear the distinction between the science, the activism, and the wild-eyed extrapolation. None of these things is going to go away, but they must be separated. How can they be separated when some prominent individuals engage in two or three of them?

Keep in mind that we are speaking to several different audiences: scientists, science writers, journalists, the government, fringe groups (even if we stop speaking to them, they'll keep listening). How can we direct and sculpt our messages so that one group doesn't blame us for what we say to another? Even within one group, as I said, answers to one question will be taken out of context:

Critic: "Machines can't self-replicate."
Drexler: "Biology is an existence proof of self-replication."
Critic: "So you're claiming you're just like biology--ridiculous!"
Drexler: "No, we're actually quite different from biology."
Critic: "So you reject biology."
Drexler: "ARGH!"

It often feels exactly like debating creationists--every time you start to prove a point they change the subject, and they have an endless supply of irrelevant and shallow criticisms.

So, are we hopeless? Or can we rehabilitate ourselves in time to do some good?

Chris


July 3, from Bill Atkinson to Chris Phoenix
Subject: Re: Dialog page...

Yes, this is the dirtiest of laundry; and for that very reason we must run it. Go into your response if you must, and take away some of its edge: but leave it in, its essence and its emotion - even its despair. Because this is also paydirt. Shrinks live for these moments of revelation.

You and I have danced around each other, feinted some, and both landed some blows. Now here it is: the core, the nub, the essence. We mustn't omit it. This is what we've been leading up to. It's the breakthrough! No, it doesn't "advance the discussion of the technical stuff" - at least not directly. But it does, I think, represent the biggest present chance of advancing the MAM as a whole: of making it a true discipline rather than an interesting intellectual movement, like Moral Re-Armament.

So what happened in our last two exchanges? It was like cutting a diamond: a tap in the right place, and voila. I didn't abate any of my criticisms of the MAM. But I rephrased them so that they were coming from a professional communications advisor. I left off the razor edge of real opposition and delivered my assessment of why MAM is, to mainstream science, beyond the pale. I asked and then answered the question, which you hadn't asked explicitly but which lay (and still lies) latent in everything the MAM says and does: "Why doesn't the scientific establishment take us seriously?"

Now consider your response. You almost got it; then you shied away. You construed my comments as more attacks, to be defended against. And you mount a defence that's up to your usual brilliance. But work with me here; understand that in that last communication, I was actually on your side. Say you had a disease, and I was a doctor giving you my diagnosis: telling you how I saw your problem, suggesting how you could solve it. Would your response be: No, you're wrong, it's not like that? Or would it be: Jeez, I suspected that's how it was? Possibly both: some denial, some willingness to listen. And that's what you did.

I was, and am, trying to help here. To see and say clearly what MAM must do to take the first step toward reconciliation with the establishment. Sure, by your lights I'm still an outsider, and being unfair and unduly harsh in at least some of my assessments - maybe most. But you ARE outside the Establishment, and I gave you a pretty good synopsis of why. It may not be fair, but those are the conceptions and preconceptions you folks are going to have to address if you want to come back into the scientific fold.

Because you do have to come back. You can still be mavericks and dreamers; God knows the mainstream needs those, and always will. Dick Feynman, Bucky Fuller, Karl Proteus Steinmetz. Hell, Albert Einstein! But it needs rebels WITHIN the system, not outside throwing rocks and huddling in a cave, telling one another how put-upon they are. Perhaps you are put-upon by a smug Establishment. That's not the issue. The issue is, as you yourself see clearly, perception. And the passive kind: not how you see, but how you are seen. And brother, that is bad.

To specifics. Maybe it's some kind of intellectual compromise for the MAM officially to surrender its love affair with the corpsicle crowd. ("Cryonics", by the way, is a legitimate science, and deals with the physics of the supercold: quantum fluids, low-temp superconductivity, &c. Using the term as a euphemism for the corpsicle cult is an attempt to blur reality with Newspeak.)

And maybe it's a compromise for you to rein in your predictions to the point where the published ones are testable within five years max. But sure as there are little green apples, unless the MAM makes up its mind to compromise to some degree, you're headed for the dustbin of history along with the people who plugged the Supreme Electric Belt. The purer you are, the more intent you are to follow the quirks and whims of Drexler, Merkle and the boys, the more you'll wander in the wilderness. Upon which 2050 won't see the MA, but may see a Ph.D. dissertation or two on an interesting start-of-century cult.

But I have to consider, and you must too, whether exile is exactly what you want. Whether, like the splinter churches, you define yourselves by what you're not. Whether the MAM's entire raison d'etre is to be the City on the Hill, possessed of arcane and secret knowledge and content to let the rich and powerful sinners go to hell at their own speed. It's exactly this attitude - equal parts self-righteousness, arrogance, shyness, and the fear that actual experiment will disprove the truths you now comfortably take on faith - that characterizes the MAM. Unless that changes, the MAM will remain in splendid isolation. You really think you can achieve the MA in attic labs, unbeholden to the Establishment? We'll see a backyard moon rocket before that happens.

Yet it's all unnecessary. It's not too late to turn things around! Yes, you may split the Movement: in fact you will. You must. Let the nutbars stay in their hilltop fortress. You, and thinking moderates like you, can make a sufficiently good case to induce a critical mass of liberal- minded mainstreamers to rethink their opposition. It just requires speaking their language.

I'm not advising you to sell your souls here. Keep thinking outside the box; without free-thinkers, science quickly becomes a herd of highly qualified sheep, replicating one another's experiments and marking time till each is promoted from the bench (yuk!) to administration, where the real power and money are. Mainstream science needs people like you to keep it honest.

Compromise is the only way you'll get the acceptance, and thus the grant money, to pursue your dreams in reality rather than on the blackboard. It frustrates you that the US Government won't make policy based on the great potential of MA. But as Charlie Schultz once wrote, great potentials are a dime a dozen. No legislator in his right mind is going to buy a dream when it takes money from material reality: ie. nanotech in his bailiwick, done by labs making real experiments and discovering real things.

Policy implications? Do a thought experiment with me. My name is K. Eric Atkinson and I have done an immense amount of mathematics demonstrating categorically that humans can transmute matter by mental energy. I have a large following; I have sold tens of thousands of books describing exactly how this can and will be done; I know of no show-stoppers, though I am constantly attacked by the ill-informed. So let's make policy here, Mr and Ms Representative! Think of the transforming implications of this revolutionary new science paradigm! If we don't do it, the Russians will!

Ain't gonna happen, is it? Realistically, now? Not without material demonstration: not without advancing prediction, supposition and speculation to the level of productive experiment. Yes yes yes, science needs calculations; I've never denied that. But while necessary, quants are not in themselves sufficient. I've talked myself blue in the face on this one, and I'll go on doing so till I get my point across. The MAM must, repeat must, come away from being a strictly blackboard activity. For as long as it remains so, it will also be a fringe activity.

You don't have science yet: you have the glimmerings of science. You need data. Perhaps more importantly, you need to demonstrate to the world that you have data: or are at least in search of data. Only then do you have a hope of being regarded as respectable.

You cite engineers who were derided for forecasting ridiculous speeds of 40 mph. But you make a false syllogism here: Great scientists were derided, the MAM is derided, thus the MAM is great science. Nope: logically possible, but not logically certain. Goofballs are derided too, and justly. And They Laughed At Me For Saying The Moon is Made Of Green Cheese.

It is not possible to push nanobot activism and gain respectability. Or it is, but only if the activism is hidden: if the face you present to the world is, well, dull. Keep the flame in your hearts, but keep it off the public talks and NIH grant applications! Drexler wasn't in trouble the moment he published Engines. But he was in endless trouble as time went on and he kept embroidering Engines rather than insisting on the performance of corroborating experiments.

Heck, I know what makes the man tick. He has the rare strength of mind to keep before him day to day the fact of his own mortality, and to try (as no one since Gilgamesh has done) to oppose his will and his mind to it. That, I think, is his ultimate motivation. But I fear it's slowly turned his mind to mush. The MA IS possible! Physical immortality WILL BE the result!!! Yah. Show me. Even Freitas, detail man though he is, is still just doing calcs and spinning tales till a real invention is demonstrated. Enough chat, already.

I will say it till it sinks in, Chris: calcs by themselves are not enough, no matter how sophistimacated they are. In law, one is innocent until proven guilty. In nanotech - again, this may not be fair, but it's reality - the MA is not possible until it's been demonstrated. This is, I grant you, 25% science, 25% technology, and 50% [+ delta-P] perception. Tom Theis's pronouncement about business levels need not apply to something transforming; but that's true only in retrospect. At the time of transformation, even the most revolutionary technology must come across (for sordid marketing reasons) as an agent of only incremental change. Iron? Just bronze with an attitude. Petroleum? Merely a hay-less horse.

Logically, the skeptics don't have to disprove your arguments, or show errors in your math. They can say Deus Non Vult and it's a valid argument. They can say they were asleep when you made your summa, or watching Legally Blonde II, and it's a valid argument. The only thing that will convince them, whatever their arguments, is to produce the technologies that their arguments deny. That is the one unanswerable thing that the MAM can do. To do this, it needs lab facilities and money. And to do THAT, it needs to abate the wildness of its claims to access federal funding. That, old son, is the practical essence of my MarCom advice.

More later - gotta sleep

B.


July 14, from Chris Phoenix to Bill Atkinson
Subject: Re: Dialog page...

You read my response as defense against your attack. It wasn't. I knew that you were not attacking but trying to help. And I was trying, not to defend, but to show real-life problems that we have to figure out how to work around. Please re-read my comments in that light. I was looking ahead, defining current problems so we could solve them--not defending what we had done.

You and I have danced around each other, feinted some, and both landed some blows. Now here it is: the core, the nub, the essence. We mustn't omit it.

I'm including it unedited (so far), including this letter. The whole thing should be published on Rocky's site today or tomorrow.

This is one of the cores, essences, nubs. I agree that this is a crucial topic. It's not the only one, not when people are still getting published for saying that thermal noise means nanobots can't work. (That's not a personal dig--I was thinking of an article in Wired, but having written it, I'll leave it in.)

I didn't abate any of my criticisms of the MAM. But I rephrased them so that they were coming from a professional communications advisor. I left off the razor edge of real opposition and delivered my assessment of why MAM is, to mainstream science, beyond the pale.

And that made all the difference. If you as a prizewinning science writer say that our science is based on impossibilities, then obviously we have to defend. But if you say that our presentation needs work--there's nothing to defend, only to improve.

I was, and am, trying to help here. To see and say clearly what MAM must do to take the first step toward reconciliation with the establishment. Sure, by your lights I'm still an outsider, and being unfair and unduly harsh in at least some of my assessments - maybe most.

Believe me, I appreciate your attempts to help. And I think there's a good chance that they will be productive. And don't worry about being unfair and harsh--on anything but the science. There, you'll find a very tough opponent. Everywhere else, you'll find a willing student or collaborator.

Because you do have to come back. You can still be mavericks and dreamers; God knows the mainstream needs those, and always will. Dick Feynman, Bucky Fuller, Karl Proteus Steinmetz. Hell, Albert Einstein! But it needs rebels WITHIN the system,

Yep. How's this for timing: the night before you sent this, I was at a friend's house listening to her teen-ager tell about challenging the teacher in class, and then complain about getting a bad grade on an assignment where he didn't follow the rules. At that moment, enlightenment struck, and I told him, "No, it wasn't unfair. You can either challenge the system or break the rules--but not both." And then I read this.

To specifics. Maybe it's some kind of intellectual compromise for the MAM officially to surrender its love affair with the corpsicle crowd. ("Cryonics", by the way, is a legitimate science, and deals with the physics of the supercold: quantum fluids, low-temp superconductivity, &c. Using the term as a euphemism for the corpsicle cult is an attempt to blur reality with Newspeak.)

You're thinking of "cryogenics" for the science. "Cryonics" refers only to freezing people. My Webster's Ninth New Collegiate gives a first-use date of 1967 for the latter word. There's no Newspeak, and I don't think there's any attempt to confuse. http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=cryonics&db=* http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=cryogenics&db=*

It's not love affair, and it's not about intellectual compromise. It's that many of the people who have studied MNT have gone and signed up for cryonics, and some have become active in the field. (It's a field, not just a cult--and yes, they do actual lab research and publish interesting and useful results.)

And maybe it's a compromise for you to rein in your predictions to the point where the published ones are testable within five years max. But sure as there are little green apples, unless the MAM makes up its mind to compromise to some degree, you're headed for the dustbin of history along with the people who plugged the Supreme Electric Belt.

Do you have any knowledge of how we're perceived in other countries? A few years ago, I forget exactly when, I heard a speaker at a Foresight conference talking about MNT in Japan. She said that they had really bought into it, and once another breakthrough or two was achieved, they were going to launch a crash program. I wonder if that's still true, or if it ever was. It wouldn't surprise me much.

Certainly, if we want to get standard science funding in the US, we have to change our ways. Or more precisely, it sounds like at least some of us have to, and apparently they have to disavow the rest. But there are other sources of funding, some of them likely to be more efficient and more forward-looking and policy-oriented. So I haven't given up completely on the idea of blowing off the U.S. scientific establishment. And in any case, I'm less concerned about funding than I am about a simple acknowledgement that the ideas are worthwhile. Of course, getting funded is a good way, probably the best way, to accomplish that.

The purer you are, the more intent you are to follow the quirks and whims of Drexler, Merkle and the boys, the more you'll wander in the wilderness.

You seem to be setting me up personally as a mainstream type MNT spokesperson. Surely you weren't seriously suggesting that I should make myself president of a worldwide MNT group? I'm not well suited, and I'd almost certainly fail. And politics and funding are not my goals in life. I'm much better off as Director of Research for a MNT policy research and education group--which is where I am already.

But your advice will not be wasted. Any that seems even potentially workable, I will pass on to others who can make better use of it. I do have a lot of contacts among "Drexler, Merkle, and the boys", and many of them are not as incorrigible as they might seem.

Upon which 2050 won't see the MA, but may see a Ph.D. dissertation or two on an interesting start-of-century cult.

If MA's aren't worked on till 2040, by 2060 they'll be science fair projects. Just like we've written Babbage Machine simulators. The dissertations will be on how a promising technology was abandoned for a long time. (But I'm just saying that to annoy you.)

But I have to consider, and you must too, whether exile is exactly what you want. .... It's exactly this attitude - equal parts self-righteousness, arrogance, shyness, ...

This sounds like Objectivism, the Ayn Rand fringe of economics/politics (not the same as libertarian--even farther in that general direction). And yes, you'll find some Objectivists among the Extropians, cryonics people, and Foresight people. The worldviews are uncomfortably close. But here and in the next few paragraphs, I get the feeling that you're talking about the fringe of the members more than the leaders and researchers. To some extent, the members set the tone of the groups, and this may be unfortunate. (Note that CRN is not a membership organization.) But don't judge the motivations of the leaders by the actions of the followers. Foresight, the group I know, is quite loose and unstructured. Anyone can be a member, which means our members come from all over. Those who are shy (nerdy/technophile), arrogant (attracted to powerful tech), and self-righteous (attracted to the world-changing meme) will of course be attracted. But they self-assemble--they are not led. There is no cult here, and they are showing what they bring, not what they reflect.

... and the fear that actual experiment will disprove the truths you now comfortably take on faith

Your other characterizations ring true to some extent. This one doesn't. AFAIK, most people in Foresight are quite confident about what experiment will show. We have no reason to fear any experiment. In fact, we want to see experiments--because experiments mean progress, and we know this.

that characterizes the MAM. Unless that changes, the MAM will remain in splendid isolation. You really think you can achieve the MA in attic labs, unbeholden to the Establishment? We'll see a backyard moon rocket before that happens.

No, of course we don't think that. We're hoping that some large facet of the Establishment, with a lot of resources, will recognize the potential and fund it. We are not separatist--just unpopular, and sometimes, yes, arrogant.

Yet it's all unnecessary. It's not too late to turn things around! Yes, you may split the Movement: in fact you will. You must.

How does this fit with your advice that the Movement must speak with one voice? Will the journalists and scientists flock to the first reasonable voice, so that the fringe will be ignored? Or will it simply increase the cacophany?

Let the nutbars stay in their hilltop fortress. You, and thinking moderates like you, can make a sufficiently good case to induce a critical mass of liberal- minded mainstreamers to rethink their opposition. It just requires speaking their language.

Moderate? You think I'm a moderate? I guess there must be something to this style-makes-the-difference stuff. I remain agnostic about some of the stuff in Engines, but I'm pretty firmly convinced that the stuff in Nanosystems will work more or less as claimed. Obviously, I'm open to disproof and discussion. If that makes me a moderate, so be it. But then a lot of the people you call "nutbars" are also moderates!

Compromise is the only way you'll get the acceptance, and thus the grant money, to pursue your dreams in reality rather than on the blackboard. It frustrates you that the US Government won't make policy based on the great potential of MA.

But I've been realizing recently that the US Congress is way too busy to deal directly with new stuff. It has to be lobbied in, or pork-barrelled in, or otherwise slipped in through the channels that have evolved to protect our representatives from complete meltdown. But Congress is only one small part of the Government. And that's only one government in the world. I want to look at multiple options. Congress-mediated science funding is one way to go, but I'm not convinced it can happen quickly enough.

Policy implications? Do a thought experiment with me. My name is K. Eric Atkinson and I have done an immense amount of mathematics demonstrating categorically that humans can transmute matter by mental energy. .... If we don't do it, the Russians will!
Ain't gonna happen, is it?


Two words: Distance viewing. Sure, it's probably completely bogus. But when the Soviets started trying it, the US (SRI) started investigating it too. So don't get too pessimistic.

You don't have science yet: you have the glimmerings of science. You need data. Perhaps more importantly, you need to demonstrate to the world that you have data: or are at least in search of data. Only then do you have a hope of being regarded as respectable.

In other words, it's another PR problem. There is actual data all through Nanosystems. Bond lengths and energies are well known. The molecular modeling software is based on experiment. Many of the calculations are based on physical law, and are as reliable as geometry.

Of course, Nanosystems as a whole doesn't prove that diamondoid nanobots can absolutely definitely be built. But it certainly demonstrates that they're plausible--yes, grounded in experimental results.

I'm a little surprised that there'd be any question about whether we're in search of data. Haven't we been saying we want funding and experiments and further study? Asking to be considered as a serious science (which should always want more testing)? Apparently, we've missed a fundamental problem in communication. Are you saying that those in the establishment belive we *don't* want data? Is this just your impression of us, or have a lot of scientists made this complaint?

You cite engineers who were derided for forecasting ridiculous speeds of 40 mph. But you make a false syllogism here: Great scientists were derided, the MAM is derided, thus the MAM is great science. Nope: logically possible, but not logically certain. Goofballs are derided too, and justly. And They Laughed At Me For Saying The Moon is Made Of Green Cheese.

I wasn't trying to prove anything here--simply observing that derision is not proof of bogosity. And engineers who project amazing capabilities can expect to be derided, even if their projections are completely reasonable from an engineering point of view.

It is not possible to push nanobot activism and gain respectability. Or it is, but only if the activism is hidden: if the face you present to the world is, well, dull.

Like I said: we can challenge the system, or break the rules, but not both. We've been trying to do both.

Keep the flame in your hearts, but keep it off the public talks and NIH grant applications! Drexler wasn't in trouble the moment he published Engines. But he was in endless trouble as time went on and he kept embroidering Engines rather than insisting on the performance of corroborating experiments.

Nanosystems is *not* embroidering Engines. It is far more limited in scope. The whole point of Nanosystems was to establish in detail the theoretical feasibility of a very limited and preliminary kind of molecular nanotech. This is not embroidery; it's support. Sure, it's theoretical support, not quite as good as experiment, but the only kind of support one can accomplish without funding.

While doing the work that went into Nanosystems, Eric was also calling for experiments. Sorry if the scientists missed that. It's probably a context/communication problem again, since he was often wearing his activist hat while making that call.

Heck, I know what makes the man tick. He has the rare strength of mind to keep before him day to day the fact of his own mortality, and to try (as no one since Gilgamesh has done) to oppose his will and his mind to it. That, I think, is his ultimate motivation.

Again, I think you're reacting to a composite character. If this were Drexler's motivation, he would have signed up for cryonics long ago.

But I fear it's slowly turned his mind to mush. The MA IS possible! Physical immortality WILL BE the result!!! Yah. Show me.

Where does Drexler say this? How much time has he spent saying it? You may be confusing him with Merkle. I think Drexler has spent most of his time talking about other consequences of nanotech. In Engines of Creation, for example--one of his most speculative works--he spends less than 20 pages talking about cryonics, including biological background, feasibility arguments, and social implications.

Even Freitas, detail man though he is, is still just doing calcs and spinning tales till a real invention is demonstrated. Enough chat, already.

Mike tells me that Freitas is well respected even outside the nanobot crowd. Doing calcs? Yes. Tabulating useful data? Yes. Spinning tales? Have you actually read Nanomedicine? Calling it "tales" is quite unfair. It does contain several nanomachine-type inventions (many of which are presented, not as proposals, but simply as exploration of likely capabilities). It also contains many sections that do not depend at all on MNT, including physics calculations, extensive and well-researched collections of biomedical and anatomical facts, and discussions of nanoscale design issues that will apply quite as much to implant medicine and conventional nanotech as they will to MNT.

Put it this way. When I want to look up a physics formula and how to use it, I reach first for Nanomedicine--if it's not in there, I fall back on my college physics textbook.

I will say it till it sinks in, Chris: calcs by themselves are not enough, no matter how sophistimacated they are.

We agree. But see a few paragraphs below...

Tom Theis's pronouncement about business levels need not apply to something transforming; but that's true only in retrospect. At the time of transformation, even the most revolutionary technology must come across (for sordid marketing reasons) as an agent of only incremental change. Iron? Just bronze with an attitude. Petroleum? Merely a hay-less horse.

A very, very good point. I think we've been missing this. We know that MNT *could* (if the theory holds) be a transforming technology. And so we expect that if we can demonstrate this, it will be treated as such. But what we don't realize is that transforming technologies have never been treated in any special way, because they were only recognized after the fact.

There is in fact no standard for how to treat transforming technologies. I understand that even nuclear weapons were not viewed as transforming until after people saw and reflected on what actually happened in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. So it's probably a fundamental error to expect any technology to be treated as transforming.

They can say they were asleep when you made your summa, or watching Legally Blonde II, and it's a valid argument. The only thing that will convince them, whatever their arguments, is to produce the technologies that their arguments deny.

So here's the question. We have a chicken-and-egg problem here. We can't produce the technologies without funding. We can't get funding without convincing the skeptics. And we can't convince the skeptics without producing the technologies. How can we break this deadlock?

Science has some room for speculation. Again: we can challenge the system as long as we don't break the rules. So one way out of the deadlock is to produce some boring papers that convince people that the topic can be interesting. After they start looking at it, they might produce some papers, and eventually a new field is started.

One problem is that this will likely take too long. "Science advances one funeral at a time." We could expect it to take another 20-30 years for the basic paradigm of MNT to be accepted in science, and then a few more decades for useful mechanochemical results to be published, and then for the molecular machines to be invented... From a policy point of view, this sucks. Because long before then, some country will have started a Manhattan Project and will likely be able to revolutionize their armed forces almost overnight.

Another problem is that we've already broken the rules. How can we recover from that? Will the system forgive and forget, or have too many people already lent their reputation to reactions against MNT?

I asked above: will a moderate voice be accepted, or merely increase the cacophany? To this, I add other questions. Will the NNI's definition of nanotech be taken as that moderate voice, dooming all of MNT to fringe status regardless of what we do? (Is Smalley already the President of the World Nanotech Association?) How much will it be necessary to exclude from the "moderate" writing: obviously Engines, but what about Nanosystems?

That is the one unanswerable thing that the MAM can do. To do this, it needs lab facilities and money. And to do THAT, it needs to abate the wildness of its claims to access federal funding. That, old son, is the practical essence of my MarCom advice.

Note that Nanosystems was supposed to do this. There aren't many wild claims in Nanosystems. Nothing about cryonics; nothing even about health, or social issues. Nanosystems was supposed to be the sober, dull, meet-them-on-their-own-ground science.

So, why didn't it work, and how much of it can be repackaged so that it will work? This is not rhetorical. You will help us immensely if you can tell us how to present the work in Nanosystems so that it will be taken (as it should be) as the first step toward dull, sober, scientific analysis of MNT.

Chris

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