inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #101 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Sun 15 Jun 03 10:37
The paradox of nanotechnology is that no matter what you think of
Drexler, he and his organizations are a required stop on the learning
curve of nanotechnology. Proceed cautiously.

As to nanotechnology itself we are on the leading edges of a wave that
will have far reaching effects. In terms of where we are at versus the
computer chips, it would be the late 50s or early 60s, somewhere between
the transistor and the integrated chips. Note that most computers these
days have millions of transistors.

However, because of computers, combinatorial chemistry and some other
wonderful tools, nanotechnology will have a sudden impact taking years
instead of decades to mature. Molecular modeling software improves

Over the past ten years the biggest champion of nanotechnology has been
Drexler. He has created such an interest that almost any scientific or
engineering project has to at least acknowledge potential nanotechnology
implications. What he has done is tap into the technical pool of talent
of the computer revolution, the information age and biotechnology to
inspire them to at least take a look at nanotechnology.

Now there is a huge pool of talent waiting for specific breakthroughs to
either write about it or build it, whatever it may be. The difference
between the computer revolution and the nanotech revolution is that
nanotechnology has at least 1000 times the talent pool with all sorts of
individuals and companies who can put their own money into a project.

Bill, you would know better than I. How many companies do you estimate
are pure nanotechnology plays. And how many companies have projects that
involve nanotechnology?
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #102 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 16 Jun 03 10:13
Betsy, you're right in every point. The book's main aim is to let the
public distinguish between real and imaginary nanotech. As this (to my
knowledge) is the first time this distinction has been made in a
mass-circ book, I had to do it forcefully from the get-go. 

Nanocosm does engage in speculation. But it is (1) In the near future;
(2) Based on the latest existing work, e.g. molecular catalysis; (3)
Given as a guideline to current understanding and investment; and (4)
Set out explicitly as speculation, not The Way Things Are. 

I've taken on an immense task to do this as a science writer.I sweat
to render scientific concepts in clear standard English, but absolute
accuracy generally requires math. Any nonnumerate rendering ipso facto
falls short of total truth. In moving from mathematics into literacy, I
leave myself open to approbation or critique at every turn. This is
why Nanocosm is a love-it-or-hate-it book. CAs are not like that!
thunders Mr Phoenix, who has presumably never taken pity on the lay
person encountering the subject for the first time. Such readers need
vast simplification, e.g. restricting the universe of discourse to
single-dimentional static CA systems without a pre-existent Cartesian
grid of cells on an infinite plane. No, my text hasn't the elegance of
advanced CA math. But as an initial encounter, I stand by it. In this I
have the support of many of my readers, ie. the laity. 

In many of his objections, eg. white matter / grey matter, Mr Phoenix
would be better not pretending to omniscience. These data are directly
taken from interviews with world experts, eg. Dr Roger Fouts. Further,
nearly every interview in the book was checked word for word with the

Most accusations of wrong technology in Nanocosm come from those with
an axe to grind, ie. that I question Drexler's place in the nanotech
pantheon. I repeat: I have to establish a clear demarcation between
fact and speculation. Drexler has, for example, yet to prove that
individual atoms can be placed to angstrom accuracy by any means, let
alone in microseconds by means of a self-directed nanoassembler, and
particularly when covalent bonds are involved. If I'm wrong in such
statements, then so is Rick Smalley. And if we're into argumenta ad
homines, I'm placing my bets with the Nobel laureate and genuine
nanoscientist rather than the spinner of elegant, unproven

Drexler deserves credit for popularizing nanotech: this I explicitly
grant him at the outset of the book. But the time has come for nanotech
to move out of the world of what-if and nice-someday, into the world
of actual science and engineering. Drexler seems rather like Trotsky: a
leader of early revolution, whom the later revolution is in process of
exiling. Of course neither he nor his fellow Trotskyites will go

Finally, Betsy, I share your fears about the otherness of the
nanocosm, and the unknown nature of the technology that we will
ultimately develop to manipulate it. I tried to make this clear at the
very end of the book. Disastrous events, when and and if they arrive,
won't be of the grey-goo variety. They'll come out of left field in a
way that no one, least of all the experts, could have predicted. I'm
reminded of the Chinese dual ideogram for crisis: danger/opportunity.
Both elements are there. I hope we'll gain the opportunity without
encountering more danger than we can handle.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #103 of 133: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Mon 16 Jun 03 10:31
Nice defense.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #104 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 16 Jun 03 19:59
Thanks, Brian. 
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #105 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Tue 17 Jun 03 11:00
Hi all, and especially Erin! This was E-mailed today to kurzweilAI in
response to their review - 


Dear Mr Phoenix: A brief response to the on-line review of Nanocosm. 

Most of the review's objections can be put to rest by my interviewees.
Anatomical and functional distinctions between grey and white brain
tissue are those of Roger Fouts of The Chimpanzee and Human
Communication Institute, Central Washington University; laser
spectroscopist Geraldine Kenney-Wallace has documented how chemical
reactions commonly occur in a few tens of femtoseconds; etc. 

Of course conventional thermodynamic calculations forbid a Maxwell
demon; my suggestion is tongue-in-cheek. Yet consider that if CERN
characterizes the Higgs boson by 2005, resultant innovations such as
synthetic gravity might also violate current theory. New data
invariably encapsulate old theory as a special case.

I fully defend all observations and conclusions about Eric Drexler.
Science demands skepticism about anything imagined yet unproduced. One
could argue details forever, but two facts seem incontrovertible.
First: If all objections are answered, where is the device? If A then
B: Not-A: Therefore not-B. Second: Mr Drexler himself is on record that
nanotechnology has been empirically redefined, and must now be
considered separate from the molecular assembler (New Scientist, 2003

From molecular switches to metallic ceramics and fullerene structures,
from parallel failure-tolerant nanoarchitectronics to the renascence
of analogue, real nanoscience is rapidly producing tangible, bankable
results. Mixing up such genuine work with unproven speculation, no
matter how fascinating, does no one any service. 


William Illsey Atkinson
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #106 of 133: Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Fri 20 Jun 03 05:26
The mixup of genuine work with unproven speculation is something I've
seen in a lot of "futurist" work. I have some friends who are
"Extropians" and they believe that we are moving towards being
"Transhuman" - that we will conquer death, upload ourselves into
computers and so on. Most have plans to go into cryogenic storage at
the end of their lives - or "this" life. But there's a huge gap
between where we are now and where we might be someday. 

Personally I think we have the farthest to go in social evolution....
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #107 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Fri 20 Jun 03 08:08
From George Bernard Shaw...

A reasonable man adapts himself to suit his environment. An unreasonable
man persists in attempting to adapt his environment to suit himself.
Therefore, all progress depends on the unreasonable man.

In my experience I have found both approaches as defined by Shaw to be
of interest. That holds true to the self-proclaimed purists who loathe
mixing uproven speculation with true science, and for the self-
proclaimed pathfinders to the future especially the fountain-of-youth

However, the interest is in the process, not the end, since even science
greatest discoveries often occured unintentionally. Luckily, there was
someone observing carefully what was going on and pursued that

The process of building a bridge between now and a future technology is
where the action is since putting all the pieces together requires
putting a lot of processes together as well as putting alot of people
together. The right place and time may also be needed. But those are
just the ingredients, the recipe for developing a new technology.

What is really needed is a bit of luck, divine intervention, or
interference by nature.

In the last century we saw life expectancies rise from around 30 years
of age to 75 plus even in places like China. THis century may being
another doubling to 150 years for those who survive what lies ahead.

Is the unproven technology science fiction of perhaps the next century?
I don't know. But I want to see how someone proposes getting from here
to there for therein lies interesting processes, and perhaps a product
with a profitable niche.

And who knows what we may stumble across while searching.

Over the past 35 years Star Trek has led us in numerous journeys using
all sorts of speculative technology. NASA finally broke down in the
1990s recoginzing with the Breakthrough Propulsion Physics program that
othe forms of propulsion may be feasible. More importantly, they looked
at the pieces and processes required to bridge the gap from what we have
to what it might take to build a new technological device.

Keep in mind that much of science was once science fiction. Here is the
fertile ground where dreamers become visionaries. And when the visionary
is properly trained they become engineers, scientists and even
futurists. In the end they are all bridge builders attempting to bring
the future to the present. Some folks are upset at seeing the other
side, some may be frightened by the river, but in the end they will all
work together to build the bridge whether it be the Golden Gate Bridge
or the Tacoma Narrows Bridge.

From a human perspective the Extropians provide an extraordinary look at
what might become a beehive of activity. Perhaps it's my business acumen
kicking in, but I find the organizational behavior to be a bit
interesting, a sort of group think that removes boundaries.

If we could only tap into that sort o fthinking to provide freedom and
liberty for all instead of immortality for just a few.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #108 of 133: Everything's for the best in this best of all possible acid trips (tinymonster) Fri 20 Jun 03 10:45
<clap clap clap>

That's a great essay, <airman>!  You definitely should save it off and
keep it.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #109 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Fri 20 Jun 03 11:50
Wow! And just when I thought this discussion was starting to subside!
Airman, you've outdone yourself - I agree with Tinymonster that this
was, and is, a keeper.

The trick is to find that perfect locus - a launch pattern for new
scientific understanding, and useful new technology, that's been
described as hitting a keyhole in the sky. If we're too practical, we
fall back to Earth: we grumble like Grandfather in Peter and the Wolf,
who can't see the good in any action even after it happens. ("What if
Peter had not caught the wolf? What then, eh?") With this approach,
we'd see science and technology dominated by the conceptual mainstream
who ignore Shaw, stick with what they know, and thus rarely discover
anything really new. 

But with insufficient rigor and practical discipline, science is just
as unproductive. There's a role for sheer dead weight: in the keel, to
keep us stable and upright. Brainstorming is necessary, but
insufficient. No progress is made without great vision; but equally, no
progress is made without the sleeves-up sweat that puts the vision
into material form. Dream big! say the Extropians, Technocracy-ans,
Libertarians, etc. Don't dream at all! say the scientific
conservatives. Dream AND do, say I. 

Of course it's easier to say than do. Airman, I trust you realize the
Tacoma Narrows Bridge was nicknamed Galloping Gertie because wind at a
certain quarter and velocity set up a harmonic vibration in the thing.
First it looked like a fat man trying out a hula hoop; then it
collapsed. So there will always be setbacks along the way. 

I've had the good fortune over the last week to develop a parallel
dialogue on some of these points with Mr Chris Phoenix, who by day is a
mild-mannered imbedded-software engineer and by night puts on his
superhero costume and flies off to make detailed calculations about
molecular assemblers. We started off by beating each other up on
various points, moved to a grudging mutual respect, and are now (I
think) on the brink of a very exciting synthesis of ideas.
Anthropologists call the process acculturation, though it often feels
like a very noisy and painful collision. 

My position in the book Nanocosm is that most of the nanobot crew,
along with their fellow travellers the corpsicle people, are off in
la-la land, doing endless calcs and getting no nearer to a real device.
I'm not convinced I was wrong yet: there are many points I made in the
book that have not been fully answered to my mind. But I'm starting to
suspect that with certain modifications, the nanoboosters could make
contributions to legitimate nanotechnology - giving vision to the
traditionalists' spadework, while informing their own work with more
discipline and rigor. More on this soon! Ideas, anyone? Betsy? Airman?
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #110 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Fri 20 Jun 03 18:46
The Tacoma Narrows Bridge was when civilization first realized that
aerodynamics needed to be taken into account. The Golden Gate Bridge was
built with the aerodynamics in mind, but rarely experiences 60+ mph
winds and upwards of 100 mph winds which may close the roadway but the
bridge stands tall.

I suggest you read the work of one of the nanobot crew, "Nanomedicine".
The book is the first of four volumes but lays the groundwork for anyone
working at that level in great detail. The four volume (two are
published so far) effort establishes a baseline of what is known briding
the gaps in between biology, chemistry and physics. Right now, it seems
like more endless calcs but in order to experimental work, much of the
work required is a  defense of what has been excluded and what has been
assumed than of actual construction details.

The chosen to-be-frozen of the nanoboosters come from many scientific
disciplines and not just from the hard sciences. From science fiction to
NASA engineering there is room for everyone in this future exploit if
only to expand their personal horizons.

For me the journey has left the hard sciences for the human body.
Medical opportunities exist in all sorts of parts of the body. More
importantly, electronic and optical appliances are really coming into
their own.

The last frontier may not be space nor the ocean but the human body.

David Mathes 2003
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #111 of 133: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 3 Jul 03 14:57
I finally started reading Nanocosm.  Although I'll slog through it
because I want to learn about the current research, I'm going to have a
tough time with the breathless, inflated, Wired-esque prose.  There
may not be any molecular assemblers but there's certainly a lot of hot

In 2015, "The world currency is in U.S. dollars.  That means the whole
globe's functioning as a unified economy..."  Well that's funny, I
wonder how nanotech will kill off the Euro and bring peace to the
Middle East?

A scientist isn't just handsome, he's "out of most folks' league.  You
meet people like this now and then, men or women with everything. 
They have so much we lesser mortals aren't even jealous."  Well nope,
we aren't.  Not even a little bit.

In an interview with a scientist in Switzerland, we learn that "all
Switzerland lives by its wits" and "the study and sale of atoms may yet
remanufacture the earth into one hegemony: a single prosperious
state."  And what an accent: "I haff been selectedd to deal vith you
because I vill remindt you of ze lovable Sergeant Schultz".

Any venture capitalists who are hopefully reading the book and will
give the author lots of money are reassured that "Silicon Valley still
has it" and that "The main effect of the recent meltdown in e-business
has been to dump more of The Young And The Stupid onto the job market.
These TYATS are hungrier than ever and willing to take a flyer on an
emerging sector that's full of promise...".  Well, except that for the
most part they don't have PhD's in a physical science.

I was hoping (expecting, based on the interview) for a skeptical,
fact-based take on things.  This appears to be a slightly more
realistic sales pitch.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #112 of 133: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 3 Jul 03 15:29
(On re-reading the topic I realise that the prose style is most
definitely intentional.  I guess I was hoping for a different book. 
I've read popular science for too long and have developed an allergy to
that sort of thing.)
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #113 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Thu 3 Jul 03 23:51
Like Microcosm?
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #114 of 133: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Fri 4 Jul 03 23:08
Well, actually, I haven't read Microcosm.  There was an interesting
article about Gilder in Wired though:

The Madness of King George

What a mess.

Actually, my favorite part of Nanocosm is the Dexler debunking in
chapter 5.  There's nothing like a good debunking of a false prophet. 
(Even though it's something of a glass houses situation.)
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #115 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Sat 5 Jul 03 08:34
I thought it was an excellent debunking; it just didn't belong in that
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #116 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 7 Jul 03 15:56
Thanks for reviving the discussion, guys! Just when I thought it had
permanently wound down. It constantly knocks me out how various people
love one aspect of Nanocosm, and hate others. The style is totally
digital, both in the 1/0 sense (people adore it or despise it, no
intervening states) and yes, it's a lot like the style of Wired and
other new-age-digital pop journals. Something went ka-Snap! in me when
I was drafting the book. I'd read (and God help me, written) so many
earnest, politically correct, sleep-inducing science pieces over the
decades that this time I wanted to have some fun - while conveying
useful fact too. Some get it, some don't; some like it, some don't.
Brian, you're not the only reader to feel as you do! But The Wall
Street Journal called it "an irreverent romp", which was just what I
was aiming for. So they realized I wasn't just mouthing off. 

By contrast, a lot of the nanoboosters loved the style but hated the
(anti-Direxlerian) content. So you can't please 'em all, I guess, is
the message. I may tone things down for the next book. Depends how I

I should have an URL for you shortly (2-5 days) for a website that's
running up my dialogue with a Prince of Nanoboosters, Chris Phoenix.
I'll post the URL here for you, and also cross-reference from it to
this discussion at The Well. Lots of interesting stuff, and - who
knows? maybe a beginning of some common ground. In any event, even if
Chris and I merely end by agreeing to disagree, we've gained respect
for eather other's insights and eloquence. And each has forced the
other to refine and express key points better than ever. Brian, you'll
find the style far less grating, I think.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #117 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Tue 8 Jul 03 09:35
Brian, I checked out your URL to Gilder. Excellent. Hey, and a style
like mine! ;-)
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #118 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Thu 17 Jul 03 08:05
Guys! The discussion continues: 

Check out - 

Best, Bill
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #119 of 133: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 17 Jul 03 11:58
I think this sums it up:

"It occurs to me that at least some of our issues have to do as much
with how content is presented, as with actual content."
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #120 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Fri 18 Jul 03 09:30
Yep, Brian, this appearance-is-reality thing is proving to be one of
the key issues. It's not the whole story, but it's big. Check out
Chris's latest (just posted) and my reply, which should be in the works
no later than Saturday AM July 19th.

Airman, you out there? Have you reviewed the new site?
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #121 of 133: Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Sun 20 Jul 03 19:35
who gets to say which the best arguments are?
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #122 of 133: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sun 20 Jul 03 19:57
"Commentary text by Chris Phoenix, except where otherwise noted."
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #123 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 21 Jul 03 09:55
No formal vote, guys - each reader must weigh and consider. No need to
take things to a formal conclusion. This is more like a garage sale,
where everybody lays out his trash & treasures and everyone who's
interested can come to browse. 

As so often happens, one of the most important messages is the
subtext. Here, that's the astounding ability of daggers-drawn opponents
to air arguments and make responses - in a manner that starts out
frosty-but-civilized, moves through cordial, and is now bordering on
downright chummy. "I disagree with what you say but I will defend to
the death your right to say it." Lo - the possible emergence of common
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #124 of 133: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Tue 22 Jul 03 15:51
> This is more like a garage sale

I like that analogy, Bill.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #125 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Wed 23 Jul 03 14:14

Sorry, I've been in the blackhole of California - Pasadena - where all
the freeways end, and the place is one big cold spot for telecom. Why? I
don't know but Kinkos and the Hilton did provide me with connections so
I'm not complaining too much.

I'll check out the other discussion/


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