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November 06, 2008

Vision of the Future Mostly Unchanged: You Get What You Pay for

IO9 asks can futurism escape the 1990s.

People should consider diverting $100-150 per year in science fiction movies, DVD, books, toys and games towards actual scientific attempts at life extension and molecular nanotechnology. This does not include another average of $60-100 per person on cosmetic surgery, vitamins and dietary supplements. Why settle for imagination, illusion and fake procedures and invest in attempts at real solutions ?

Note: You can also just divert some money from this or other sources depending upon your personal priorities. ie. still buy science fiction but eat out less or buy less junk food which is bad for you anyways. Go to the movies less and rent the DVD and accumulate a fund for putting towards actual research. Recognize that in most cases vitamins do nothing and put those funds towards research that has the potential to make a big difference.

SENS life extension project
Robert Freitas Diamond Mechanosynthesis research fund (real molecular manufacturing.
There is also a private attempt to accelerate a promising cancer cure.
There are other direct investments in bringing about a real version of the future. If you have a particular future that you are interested in bringing about sooner than ask about in the comments and I and my readers can help determine the current best option.

This site has already noted how hard it is to make and get wide adoption of "change your everyday life in a radical way technology".

This article will review how of the average of about $100-150 per year that people in the US spend on science fiction or via tax dollars on science research or as a proportion of corporate research that money does not translate into progress on life extension, molecular nanotechnology, advanced AI, broad access to space or other aspects of the vision of future which has endured since 1990. On the plus the internet was transformed from a niche academic tool into the global phenomenon that it is and cellphones became common and we have handheld and laptop computers that are more powerful than some of Cray supercomputers but which are either bogged down running Windows Vista or running video games.

What have we spent our money on since 1990?
Global spending on science fiction movies, dvd, games, toys, tv and books is probably over $100 billion/year. U.S. sales of supplements totaled about $9.7 billion in 2007 and are generally recognized to have zero to minimal beneficial effect and definitely do not extend life (unless you were going to die of scurvy). American spent $13.2 billion on cosmetic surgery in 2007.

The anime industry exceeds $20 billion per year in Japan alone and is probably $40 billion worldwide. A lot of anime can be classified as science fiction.

Science Fiction movie box office for the United States has ranged consistently from $700-1.2 billion each year on an inflation adjusted basis from 1995-2008. There was two outlier years on the bottom $189 million in 2002 and $542 million in 1995 and two outlier years on the top end with $1.6 and 1.7 billion.

Science Fiction share of DVD sales and rentals is probably a slightly larger percentage.

Science Fiction has been around 5-7% of US book sales. US book sales have been about $20-25 billion per year. Worldwide science fiction book sales can be 10-11% in countries like Russia.

NASA and the Department of Defence space budgets have been about $30-45 billion per year. However, they have spent almost nothing on broadening civilian access to space or lowering space launch costs or creating an infrastructure in space. It is mostly buildings and staff on the ground in the districts of powerful senators and congressmen. It is also communication and spy satellites. It was also spent launching a space shuttle that was known to be a death trap and building a space station which was known would not change the world.





Reviewing What Happened With Nanotechnology Funding
Billions each year have been spent by governments worldwide on something labelled nanotechnology. Virtually all of that was not an attempt to enable the pre-1990 vision of molecular nanotechnology.

The history of the almost funding of molecular nanotechnology was reviewed in Wired Magazine.

Drexler presented his theories to Congress in 1992. He testified before the Senate Subcommittee on Science, Technology, and Space during a hearing about "new technologies for a sustainable world." Subcommittee chair Al Gore declared his enthusiasm and vowed to fund exploratory research.

Under attack from all sides, Drexler was nonetheless poised for victory in Washington. After years of lobbying by the Foresight Institute, in May 2003 the House passed the Nanotechnology Research and Development Act by a lopsided vote of 405 to 19. The bill contained a provision - written by California representative Brad Sherman, a Drexler supporter who had spoken at Foresight's annual conference the previous year - calling for a study to "develop, insofar as possible, a consensus on whether molecular manufacturing is technically feasible." If the technology was deemed feasible, the study would find "the estimated time frame in which molecular manufacturing may be possible on a commercial scale; and recommendations for a research agenda necessary to achieve this result."

With this language, Congress was on the verge of making Drexler's dream a reality. But by November - five months later - the provision had vanished from the legislation.

What turned the tide on Capitol Hill? Drexler's ideas had always been outlandish and his political skills underdeveloped. That combination became an Achilles' heel as opposition emerged from two quarters. First, a group called the NanoBusiness Alliance entered the fray. Formed in October 2001, the alliance wasn't interested in anything as starry-eyed or scary as self-replicating molecular assemblers; it wanted to sell newfangled products like "nanotech" suntan lotion, ski wax, and paint. One of the founders, venture capitalist F. Mark Modzelewski, was a notorious opponent of Drexlerian notions; in a later email exchange with blogger and nanotech booster Glenn Reynolds, he likened Drexler's theories to "a wino's claims on skid row that bugs are crawling under his skin."

Meanwhile, support for Drexler's ideas softened elsewhere in Washington. The White House's Office of Science and Technology Policy worried that fears whipped up by the likes of Crichton and Joy would turn the public against nanotech, just as similar scares had fueled opposition to GM foods and nuclear power. As New Hampshire's John Sununu remarked on the Senate floor, "some people have expressed concern that nanotechnology will lead to a superrace of humans or a situation where nanomachines attack or even dominate human beings."

Molecular manufacturing is a "loaded term," a Senate staffer says. "It upsets a lot of people."

The sponsors of the House bill were more interested in making sure it got through the Senate than they were in preserving funding for Drexler's ideas. Thus, when House and Senate staff members met to discuss their respective bills, they scuttled the molecular manufacturing study. In the Senate version, Arizona's John McCain introduced an "amendment in the nature of a substitute" in which the provision no longer appeared.

The watered-down bill was passed by the unanimous consent of the Senate on November 18 and signed into law by Bush on December 3. During the ceremony, Richard Smalley stood at the president's side.


Recently there has been about $30 million funded to Zyvex and its partners to develop atomically precise manufacturing and $3.2 million to verify the viability of diamondoid mechanosynthesis.

Summary
So even when governments have been saying that they have been investing in nanotechnology or space, they are not really investing to get what people really want from space or nanotechnology.

There is no need to wonder why the a real future of molecular nanotechnology and life extension has not happened when the money that individuals spend (either directly or through taxes) is spent on other things. You get better movie special effects, better video games, communication satellites and spy satellites and facilities on the ground working on government programs and the same kinds of stories of the future because that is where the money is being spent. Now is the time when we can divert some of our individual money into funding the real deal with strong possibilities of the desired results.

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