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Choose Your Words Carefully

MerkleThe last speaker before dinner was Ralph Merkle (homepage here, abstract here, book he recently co-authored here). He has the sort of voice that should be doing voiceovers for movie trailers.

Much of the beginning of Merkle's talk was about the importance -- the political importance -- of getting your terms right. "The term 'self-replication,'" he said, "has been around for quite a while.... The problem is when you talk with ordinary people about 'self-replication'... they think you're talking about biological self-replication.... This issue has come to the fore of late because it turns out there are scary things in the realm of self-replicating things... [This has caused, among other things,] redirection of funding. It helps to explain ideas using terms that avoid preconceptions." He uses, as an example, the technology formerly called nuclear magnetic resonance, which didn't catch on because the word "nuclear" scared people away. Now that it goes by a less-threatening name -- magnetic resonance imaging, MRI -- it's everywhere.

October 22, 2004 in Policy / Politics | Permalink


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