Monday, August 8, 2005

NANOHYPE AWARD - July 2005 - First Runner Up

Maryann Lawlor, “Small Matters” SIGNAL Magazine, July 2005,

This award was generated by Chris Dickson, a research assistant.

The next article was in line for the July 2005 Hype Award until the publication by ETC came across our desks.

Entitled “Small Matters” (found in July 2005 SIGNAL Magazine), it is deceptive from the get-go. While the technology discussed within is certainly small, the problems mentioned are anything but tiny. Well, I guess I should take a moment to clarify: the runner-up award goes, not to SIGNAL magazine for the article, but instead to Christine Peterson of the Foresight Nanotech Institute for the number of hyperbolized claims about the importance of a nanotech arms race.

First, a substantial portion of the article is dedicated to the discussion of potential military applications of nanotechnology. Not surprising considering the sort of federal R&D money that gets sent to the DoD. This is where Peterson comes into play, advocating that the US needs to sink more money into the development of military applications to maintain global dominance.

She starts by saying: “Unless you’re controlling the technology in an arms control sense, you have a situation where countries that look fairly harmless in terms of their capability can very rapidly become a major threat. This is a new world for the military.” True, it is a new world. So new in fact, that the world she describes is, by her own admission, at the earliest, 15 years away. The regulatory landscape, as well as the players involved, could change dramatically by that time.

But, Peterson is not concerned with just the risk involved. She continues. “The main message that I would have for the focus of the military is that we absolutely have got to win this race. This is like nuclear weapons. This is not one we can afford to lose. This is one we absolutely have got to win, and we’ve got to get organized about it.” For starters, perhaps an analogy to the nuclear arms race is not the smartest idea here. We’re talking about an era of history where countless nuclear warheads were produced in attempt at the same military dominance that Peterson speaks too. Oh, and let’s not forget that several warheads have been conveniently lost over the years. Perhaps if the Cold War era had not produced such immense pressure to proliferate, free-ranging nuclear weapons would not be such a concern today. I find it surprising that Ms. Peterson would expect a nanotech arms race to end differently.

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