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The following is an interview with Author Ed Regis. Books he has written include Nano: The Emerging Science of Nanotechnology and Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition, both of which I have read and thoroughly enjoyed, and highly recommend for anyone wanting a historical perspective on Nanotechnology, Transhumanism, Cryogenics, and other "Future Technologies".
1. Considering where you thought we'd be by 2002, how do you evaluate current technological progress?
Actually, not being a fan of prediction-making, I had no expectations at all of where'd be at any given stage in the game. But I am amazed at the rate of technological progress, which has been extremely fast, in my view. The one exception is canonical molecular nanotechnology, where actual progress has been slim to nil.
4. Besides getting themselves informed about MNT, what proactive steps can the general public take to help us steer clear of the potentially dangerous possibilities [such as the Gray Goo or "runaway" scenario]?
My own view is that the general public should forget about these and other nanotechnology scenarios, good or bad, and concern themselves with other things. There has already been more than enough theorizing about MNT and its possible consequences than we need, and than is probably healthy.
5. Are you seeing as much cooperation among the sciences as you expected? If so, how can it be further improved? If not, how can we get everyone together working synergistically?
I do not think we need "cooperation," "synergism," and "everyone working together." I am one of those dinosaurs who believes in the individual working by himself or herself alone in the lab. I am currently writing a book about a bunch of high-tech firms in Santa Fe. Three out of four of those firms are based on technologies created by a single individual an astonishingly bright scientist who had a brilliant idea for a new technology, brought that technology into existence, and, in every case but one, made a small fortune with it.
To me, all this stuff about everyone working together as one big happy family reminds me of Russian five-year plans with all of us comrades pulling together for the common good. People work together when they need to, and when it is to their advantage, and if not, not.
6. Based upon where we are now, do you anticipate any dramatic breakthroughs in the near future? In 5 years. In 10. In 25.
After having written two books about "The Future," the most valuable lesson I have learned is the futility of making predictions, and especially the fruitlessness of timing them precisely in neat multiples of 5-year chunks. There is no way to know in advance what the future will bring; we'll simply have to wait until it gets here. Fabulous breakthroughs may occur tomorrow, or today, or in 100 years. Lots of people will tell you quite confidently exactly when certain things will happen. The blunt fact is, nobody knows when, or if, they will occur.
7. With the advent of mature MNT, where do you see the most drastic changes occurring? How can society and industry prepare for it?
"Advent of mature MNT"? You've got to be joking. The one thing that has most impressed me about MNT since I've been aware of the field, which I guess has been for about 15 years, is the snail's pace of progress toward the goal. We've seen tons of conferences, books, theories, predictions, discussions, workshops, institutes, companies, scenarios, simulations, pictures, articles, initiatives, meetings, study groups, Web sites, magazines, newsletters, matching grants and unmatching grants, etcetera. The one thing we haven't seen is any substantial progress toward MNT.
I also question the common assumption that we have to "prepare for it." I see no reason why we cannot simply wait until it happens, and then accommodate ourselves to it then and there, after the fact, when, if, and as it occurs. I think a lot of this before-the-fact worrying, handwringing, theorizing, scenarioizing, worst-case and best-case planning, etcetera, is a waste of time, especially in the event that the hoped-for revolution does not occur, or does not occur in the time frame envisioned by its prognosticators.
Most people have had no trouble accommodating themselves to all sorts of incredible technological feats, everything from the moon landing to the Concorde, VCRs, CAT scans, heart and lung transplants, hip replacements, cloned sheep, and truly stylish Japanese sports cars. Who would have thought!
9. Do you believe in the tenets of Transhumanism, and the Extropian viewpoint? Are you prepared to become Transhuman?
I used to be a big fan of Extropianism, but for my money the downside to the Extropian philosophy is the degree to which it makes one dissatisfied with what you have in the present. Always seeking more is a kind of curse. Second, I reject the Extropian ideal language (I forget the name of it), in which certain things are literally unsayable. A language that makes certain thoughts unsayable is a form of thought control, a practice that ought to die a well-deserved death, and the sooner the better.
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