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Last Thoughts from the Foresight Conference

I am not a nanotechnology booster; I am an interested observer. For all I know, advanced nanotechnology might someday prove to be unfeasible. But given what the development of advanced nanotechnology could mean -- the potential for good and ill -- I'm glad that the Foresight Institute is thinking about these things now.

I argued in my presentation at the conference that the moment has arrived for the Foresight Institute to become much more engaged in politics, and I was gratified by the response of the twenty or so people who told me afterwards that they agreed. I won't reprint my whole talk here, but will mention the suggestions I made to get the ball rolling. In order to make the Foresight Institute -- and the rest of the advanced nanotechnology community -- more relevant, I suggested:

1) The development of a very simple and very clear definition for laymen of what nanotechnology is.

2) Likewise, the development of an explanation of what nanotechnology isn't.

3) Efforts to draw connections between advanced nanotechnology and issues that are politically important.

4) The selection and dogged pursuit of small, specific, short-term goals.

5) A greater use of the press.

6) An increased Washington presence -- including "blitzes" on Capitol Hill.

7) An effort to distance nanotechnology from fringe movements like transhumanism and extropianism, since the association with these movements brings no political benefit but risks bringing political harm.

Here's how I ended my talk:

In conclusion, I hope you will see the vision I have laid out, the vision of nanotechnology politics, not as a suffocation of your imagination, nor as selling your soul, but simply as making what might be called a "tactical adjustment" for the sake of relevance. American politics, rightly understood, is our society's way of seeking after wisdom. It is the clash of interests and ideas and ideologies, all forced through a wringer of public argumentation and deliberation. It can be messy or heartbreaking, or tedious or scandalous, molasses-slow or lightning-fast. And by making public arguments, by seeking to listen and to persuade, by making exertions "actually in the arena," by proposing and fighting for what specifically should be done today to prepare for a better tomorrow -- instead of just talking about what should ideally come to pass -- by doing all these things, you will go far to prepare the world for the promise and peril of nanotechnology. I hope you give it a try, and I hope the world has the wisdom and the courage to heed your advice.

October 25, 2004 in Commentary | Permalink

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