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September 20, 2007

Why government nanotech initiatives have no point

Dexter at the IEEE spectrum blog asks "What’s the point?" of all of the billions being spent in the name of something called nanotechnology

He talked also about the nanotechnology funding race and asks what is at the finish line

My answer around the policies of not having a point for the programs. It is a specific choice for the funding not to be accountable to deliver on any visions. No goal then they cannot be criticized for not meeting the goal. No goals then no controversy over positives and negatives of the goal.:

This is one of the side effect problems of creating an overly broad definition of nanotechnology. You have a lot of trouble measuring and defining real progress.
Also, without clearly defined goals that would have large societal impact, one cannot define the point of doing it.

Specific projects and the details of the work that is being developed by scientists needs to be considered.

Currently the increasing nanotechnology research budgets have no more meaning than increasing science research budgets. Good stuff can randomly happen but you don't know when or what.

There are clear plans of development pathways with specific kinds of nanotechnology, which would have high impact if developed. However, as is commonly known almost all of those plans and planners have been marginalized.

Collectly the mainstream choice has been "let us not rally to those plans". So you are left with the "what's the point" problem or the "the give me the money and I am going to make whatever I want, then occasionally if we like any of the things that comes from X billion per year we will publicize a victory".

The lets spend billions for some short camping trips to the moon. Hey look we got Tang, isn't that wonderful and of course pretty pictures, great stories, bragging rights and a psychological edge in some geopolitics. The main goals came up short of real clear broad impact, but spin offs we got spin offs. Let us put political spin on the spin offs. There are space satellites for communications etc.. but those who did go to the moon and spent less money also have those things too.

Clear is we invent combustion engines and mass production. The impact is loads of cars and trucks and transformed transportation and transformed product production. There are plenty of spin off effects and products, but the focus is less on the better cup holders.

Even with the lack of a "what's the point" goal or set of clearly defined goals then each of the thousands of projects in each country needs to be examined to understand its potential. Many do not have and will not have a point or impact so those can be filtered out fairly quickly.

The NNI and others have chosen not to make a big deal about any truly high potential societal transforming goals or possibilities.

They do not want to overcommit in case it does not pan out.
http://www.nano.gov/html/facts/hype_promise.html

Thus they spin the things (which have so far been not much different from other non-nanotech products) as they happen or as they become slam dunkable.

The do not overcommit policy means that any point has to be a super-conservative objective based on existing work and progress.

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