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April 8th, 2009
Nanotechnology without Engines
Over at science progress, there's a recent post by Mody and McCray entitled Big Whig History and Nano Narratives which has some interesting things to say about nanotechnology:
Nanotech contains some elements of recent vintage, but much of the nanotech enterprise is continuous with long-standing trends in science and engineering.
To begin with, to the extent they identify "nanotechnology" with what's being funded by the NNI, they have that exactly right. Progress indeed is being made, but it's progress that would have been made under the old names and organizations (and budgets) pretty much the same.
M&M's key point about "Whig history" — the oversimplified stories of linear progress with good guys and bad guys in black and white — is sound as well.
Whig history would neglect the role of futurists like K. Eric Drexler in the 1980s in popularizing fantastic visions of what radical nanotechnologies might accomplish. …
Whig history would emphasize that Nobelist Richard Smalley did his best to discredit Drexler in 2001 and 2003. But it would ignore Smalley's promotion of Drexler's ideas in the early '90s as a way to build support for his plans for nanotechnology at Rice University.
Unfortunately, perhaps because they are historians and not engineers, this is as much as M&M get right.
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