The World According to Nick
My take on Software, Technology, Politics, and anything else I feel like talking about.
Saturday, April 02, 2005

Fear of Technology 

The title probably seems pretty strange, given that my job revolves around the use of technology. Personally I think it puts me in a unique position to be fearful. Where some techy people are so enthusiastic as to be blinded to the potential problems, I don't deny their existence. One of the up and coming technologies... one that has hardly met it's potential is nanotechnology. If you read Instapundit with any regularity you know that Glenn is very enthusiastic about it. Personally it just freaks me out.

We're talking about a technology that uses miniature machines... machines that are smaller than human cells to do... well... anything you want them to. The uses for this technology are so vast that I don't think I could scratch the surface in a single blog post... or even a year's worth of posts. The uses range from repairing human cells in your body, to creating microcircuitry, to teraforming planets. A friend of mine was recently even telling me of research at MIT where they are investigating the ability to use nanobots to do something akin to the replicator on Star Trek the Next Generation. The things that people are thinking of at this very moment for this new technology are amazing... and seem to be for the better of man kind. And yet it scares me.

It scares me because of all the things that people aren't thinking up... or at least aren't researching yet. Recently I've had to laugh as I've seen some old back issues of Popular Science and Popular Mechanics from more 40 or 50 years ago... back when computers were in their infancy. Those old issues are so funny because they tried to speculate about where computers would be today... and failed miserably. Back then they thought instead of filling up an entire huge room, a computer might be small enough to fill half a room, or maybe be as large as a sofa. Right now I'm sitting at a Starbucks using a laptop computer that has more power and memory than the computers NASA used to send a rocket to the Moon. Hell... I hold more computing power than the computers in the Space Shuttle. Sitting next to my laptop is my cell phone. If you were to ask whether people would be able to carry their phone on their belt... take pictures with it, or use it as a modem for their computer... they would have laughed in your face. These are things that we take for granted today.

What uses for nanotechnology will exist in 30 or 40 years that we're not thinking of today? Taking the computer example to its extreme... will there be nanoviruses? If they can be tailor made to eradicate disease... why not a person? As our understanding of the human body expands, and especially the brain... could nanobots be used to remotely control a person? Find someone's knuckle cracking annoying? Maybe you can infest them with a nanobot that will stop them from doing it. Seems harmless enough right? How about a nanobot to make someone rob a bank for you? Will there be banks in 30 years?

Now then... I'm not suggesting that we should ban all research into nanotechnology. That's just plainly not realistic. So how do we prevent these types of uses from coming to pass? I haven't a clue. Maybe they can't be prevented. Like I said... I'm a little freaked out.

Update: FuturePundit is also a little freaked out. But his concern is mostly with what will happen when genetic technology is cheap and easy enough to get into the realm of hobbiests. Never thought of that.


"el sueño de la rasón produce monstruos" -Goya.

Ever read "Cat's Cradle" by Kurt Vonnegut? It's an interesting "dystopic" look at nanotechnology. I don't fear it too much like others, but wonder about its possibilities (both good and bad). Guess it's natural, given that I live within spitting distance of a lot of nano and polymer research.

  Posted at April 02, 2005 6:10 PM by Blogger Be  
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Name: Nick
Home: Wauwatosa, WI, United States

I'm a Software Consultant in the Milwaukee area. Among various geeky pursuits, I'm also an amateur triathlete, and enjoy rock climbing. I also like to think I'm a political pundit.

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