Friday, February 22, 2008

The nano Sky is falling

A host of new safety concerns floated to the top again this week. I guess some mental conditions just never get old.

I think what I find most egregious about these articles is that they assume time and again that no one what-so-ever is aware of safety issues.

The other assumption is that government agencies are the only hope of any sort of safety. That industry can never, ever be trusted to make the right choices. But if you compare the track records of government and industry which is the one that really gets things done? Can you imagine a government agency trying to run eBay or Amazon?

Some misnomers, exaggerations and out-right lies you'll see:

Materials behave differently at the nanoscale. Materials behave the way they behave regardless of scale. Only a few examples of scale dependent structures are significant such as nanocrystals of gold. A nanocrystal of aspirin might dissolve faster but other than that once it's dissolved it is still just aspirin.

Nanoproducts are strange, unheard-of or alien. Many nanodevices, components and structures are actually very familiar and well studied. Fullerenes for instance have been present in soot throughout history and they've been a product of study for about 20 years. All of modern chemistry employs bottom-up statistically derived nanotechnology.

Replicators will destroy the earth. For the last 3 billion years every living organism on this planet has struggled mightily to convert as much mass into copies of itself as it could. And yet only a tiny amount of the planet is actually conscripted into this process. If an inconceivably large population of replicators using trial and error for billions of years can't do it what makes anyone think intentionally designed devices will?

Ultimately everything is composed of nanodevices: the atoms and molecules which chemistry has long ago elucidated for our understanding. The fact that someone is too lazy to comprehend this understanding does not give them the right to spread panic and rumor.


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