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September 05, 2010

Eric Drexler, Ralph Merkle or Robert Freitas Are not to Blame When Billions spent on Ordinary Chemistry Was called Nanotechnology Work- You Got What You Paid For

Again there are people complaining that the vision of Eric Drexler was not realized after 25 years since he wrote Engines of Creation and other research papers on molecular nanotechnology.

However, almost no money was spent funding the research and development of molecular nanotechnology. Significant amounts of money were devoted to mostly relabeled chemistry starting in November, 2003.

Locklin (link to his site removed, since he is a flamebaiting troll) gets facts wrong and the target of his outrage is totally misdirected. The billions for NNI were hijacked for the falsely labeled nanotech starting in 2003. It is idiotic to blame Drexler, Merkle, Freitas when they did not get the money.

Locklin and people like him ignored what has been happening for eight years and allowed the funding to be hijacked for what they do not believe is nanotechnology. Now they have stain proof pants buyers remorse and are not satisfied with carbon nanotubes and the other non-molecular nanotech research. The proper response is to write to congressmen and senators to direct NNI appropriations into an actual effort to develop molecular nanotechnology. If after actually getting funding and work for 10-25 years, then there could be some comparison of progress expected versus results delivered. For now the results match the effort that has been performed. There are very little results from almost no societal effort. Your team did not do any laps in the Daytona 500 because you did not buy a car for your team or pay for an entry fee. Whining about it now, makes me ask - Where the hell have you been for the last eight years ? When you buy your SUV from Ford Motors do you send your complaints to Porsche or DeLorean about the race car you did not buy ?

This is what went down in 2003

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


So if Scott Locklin is disappointed that there has not been the development of molecular nanotechnology, then perhaps he should blame the NanoBusiness Alliance and Richard Smalley, because almost no effort was made to fund anything like molecular nanotechnology. Molecular nanotechnology was explicitly excluded from funding.

So if the world bought a future nanotech - it was the nanotech of stuff smaller than 100 nanometers and the money was guided to Rice University and other Universities with Chemistry and Microbiology departments that got the grants and organizations linked to the Nanobusiness Alliance.

Eric Drexler wrote the first molecular nanotechnology books and told people to fund something else. The politicians and businesses mostly did not listen or do what he told them or the projects of Ralph Merkle and Robert Freitas.


So 25 years after Eric Drexlers - Engines of Creation we do not have molecular nanotechnology. Is this surprising ? For the first 18 years almost nothing was spent to develop nanotechnology. Then when the billions of dollars government and business research start getting funded around the world, the projects picked were chemistry relabeled.

Now Locklin notices that what we have gotten is Chemistry that is labeled Nanotechnology. Right it was what was funded. We did not get molecular nanotechnology, because we did not fund it or the people advocating it. We did not get much progress toward that which we did not fund.

The progress that has been made was because of some spillover from funding something else.

It is like complaining that you spend a hundred billion dollars on chemical launch space shuttles and did not get a nuclear powered rocket. Thats right you did not pay or try to build a nuclear powered rocket do you did not end up with a nuclear powered rocket. You got a chemical launch system like the one in the plans that were green lighted for development.

I can go over all the specific projects and successes that are bringing molecular nanotechnology and atomically precise manufacturing closer to realization but it is less than one percent of the money and projects under government and business programs called Nanotechnology.

However, the main issue is that it is completely idiotic to blame Eric Drexler, Ralph Merkle and Robert Freitas when we did not pay or work towards the goals and projects that they were advocating.

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