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The following is an interview with Steve Lenhert. Steve is a scanning probe microscopist at the Interface Physics department of the University of Münster. He is the author/editor of the web-based Encyclopedia Nanotech and co-moderates & contributes to the sci.nanotech newsgroup, adding his very well informed 2c's worth. Recently he has co-founded QuaNTeQ, LLC (Nanoword.net), a start-up company focusing on nanotech education, networking, and distribution of publications, the most recent being the Nanotechnology Opportunity Report (tm) - available HERE.
1. Considering where you thought we'd be by 2002, how do you evaluate current technological progress?
While I've heard many predictions, I've yet to make any concrete expectations of my own. Computing seems slightly ahead of schedule according to Moore's law. Medical technology seems to be rapidly advancing as well, with many new pharmaceuticals, treatments & diagnostic methods. Overall, I've expectected the technology to help to solve some problems, while simultaneously creating new ones - which I see hapenning. For instance pollution, unhealthy yet delicious food, lack of dependance on other humans. Some of these technology can solve (e.g. environmental remediation), others may require discipline (e.g. eating healthier & exercise), while others require that we be careful not to forget our human aspects (e.g. concern for the well being of our fellow humans).
2. Any surprises, in terms of developments arriving sooner than expected, or totally unexpected findings?
I always expect a surprise from technology - e.g. I never would have predicted the impact of the internet, mobile phones or a human genome project.
3. Who are the top 5 major players advancing the state of the art? And the 5 major areas where advances are being made.
5 players: Biology, Chemistry, Physics, Engineering,
5 areas: Medicine, Materials, Agriculture, Communication, Computing.
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]?
I think they should get themselves informed about real, modern day biotechnology, nanoelectronics and artificial intelligence. They should ask their bookstores to move books about diamondoid MNT into the science fiction or philosophy of science sections, in order to make room for the less stimulatory and more realistic nanotechnologies. The "dangerous possibility" that MNT predicts is that we might synthesize a new life form. I believe GM Whitesides has provided the most sound advice to the public in his article "The Once and Future Nanomachine".
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?
Yup, its great! I'm very pleased with all of the interdisciplinary nanotech initiatives and centers being put up around the world.
6. Based upon where we are now, do you anticipate any dramatic breakthroughs in the near future? In 5 years. In 10. In 25.
Quantum computing will have to be a big one in the computing side. On the medical/biology side, we still have plenty of unanswered questions, ranging from a quantum mechanical model of even the simplest of proteins, to a complete sequencing or expression analysis for individuals. I don't know about the timing, although some tasks seem easier than others & enabling. There are plenty of scientists working towards these, so I expect to see some dramatic breakthroughs in these and other areas in the next 5-10 years. 25 years is far beyond my event horizon, but I'll go out on a limb and expect to see the beginnings of a synthetic life form (I prefer the term "ab initio alien" over the the more common "assembler") and space elevator.
7. With the advent of mature MNT, where do you see the most drastic changes occurring ? How can society and industry prepare for it?
Again, I do not see MNT happening as it has been predicted. I think we should keep our options open and do not to count on MNT for solving our problems. Society and industry can prepare for the future by being friendly and cooperative with one another to reach common goals, as is happening in the nanosciences.
8. What event has caused you the greatest concern? and the greatest hope? or is the most contentious?
Sept 11 caused me great concern. Needless to say, the loss of innocent life was tragic. In the context of this discussion, it made me think about the potential for misuse of technologies that were never meant to be destructive. I don't follow current events or politics very much, but I'm hoping that us humans can work out our differences without destroying eachother. When I see people from diverse backgrounds working together to solve a common problem that they couldn't solve alone, that gives me hope.
9. Do you belive in the tenets of Transhumanism, and the Extropian viewpoint? Are you prepared to become Transhuman?
I'm not sure that I understand them. I believe that life has a creator - a nanoengineer that makes use of and provides us with methods such as self-assembly, templating and numerous other molecular assembly methods that are far beyond our comprehension. I am very humbled when I look at that creation, and would not dare to plagarize it.
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