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Nano Hype

BerubeThe current speaker is University of South Carolina Professor David Berube, who is receiving a good chunk of money from the federal government to study the social implications of nanotechnology. His talk is called "Nanotechnology: Hyperbole and Policy Making" (homepage here, abstract here). He's a smart, fast-talking, funny guy, who has much more to say than he has time to discuss today -- which is why, I guess, he's writing a book on nanotech. (From the sound of it, the book is basically finished, but he didn't mention when it's coming out.)

He's got a lot of different projects in the works, and Google can lead you to them if you're interested. Meanwhile, a few quotes from his talk:

- He mentioned studies on bass that apparently show brain damage when they ingested nanoparticles, although "it's not really clear to me how you would tell when bass has suffered brain damage."

- Berube and his cohort are "very concerned about this Olympic nationalism that's going on -- where it's the U.S. versus Japan versus China." Apparently, a lot of the nano-R&D statistics coming out of other countries include a lot that isn't actually nano, so this international competition is, Berube says, overhyped.

- Speaking of overhype, he thinks the public-relations effect of Michael Crichton's novel Prey, which some analysts considered a major PR-disaster, has been vastly overstated: "If you've read Prey -- it ain't no Silent Spring, folks.

Berube ultimately concludes that, despite the hype, and despite the various long-term problems nanotech might create, there are important "regulatory issues we should focus on now."

Here's a slide showing Berube's thesis (click to enlarge):


During the Q&A, this comment from Eric Drexler, from the audience: "If you read the press lately, you might get the impression that molecular manufacturing already exists -- and it's impossible."

UPDATE: At the end of Day 3, I pulled Professor Berube aside and asked him to say a few words about what he's doing with the NSF grant he received to study the social implications of nanotechnology. Click the picture below to watch Windows streaming video of his response:


October 24, 2004 in Policy / Politics | Permalink


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