Commentary on some recent news.
: Congressional report on nanotechnology
(pdf). Wonderfully written, very readable. There are some excellent excerpts
on nanodot. Go read 'em. I'm particularly impressed by the bit on the singularity, especially since it's sort of a taboo topic in general circles.
The report talks about "believing in" the singularity, which is not the right way to think about it, in my opinion. It is silly to "believe" in the singularity, and equally silly to not believe in it. One must instead realize that it is a real possibility, albeit one of many, and therefore be prepared for it.
Some other quotes that I found delicious (bear in mind that the report was sponsored by a republican congressman, and would probably have looked very different if it had been otherwise):
Unfortunately, most of academia and the research community do not facilitate this type of multidisciplinary research. Work often tends to be compartmentalized into disciplines and subdisciplines with their own vocabularies. Research proposals are evaluated by experts within one area who neither understand nor appreciate developments in other fields. Young people coming into a field are usually rewarded for extending existing lines of research and take a risk if they try to look at the unexamined gaps between academic fields.
Yet, the fear of technology displacing humans runs deep in the human psyche and explains events as diverse as the persecution of Copernicus and Galileo, the Salem Witch Trials, and the continued popularity of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein over a century after it was first written. There is also a strong tradition of Luddite opposition to any technology that threatens the existing market of any special interest. Presently, universities, optometrists, realtors, car dealerships, and others are all scrambling to protect themselves from competition enabled by the Internet. The special interests that seek these protections almost always try to justify them as efforts to protect consumers or society.
As we go forward, an increasing proportion of investment in nanotechnology will come from the private sector. As a result, government will gradually lose much its ability to shape the direction of in which the technology advances. Decisions will increasingly be made by a decentralized collection of international businesses, universities, consumers and investors. Any attempt to subject these decisions to a collective decision process in order to manage broad “socio- economic effects” is almost certain to do far more harm than good.
This is the sort of thing that makes me upbeat about the state of Science/Tech in the US of A, in spite of little anomalies like Dubya and his fundie gang not liking stem cell research very much.
In other news, some trolls
have released a report claiming that US technology adoption has suddenly fallen from 1st in the world to 7th in a single year (actually it talks about the "networked readiness index".. I don't even know what that is). This is readily lapped up as news by a variety of sources.
I used to think that "OMG science and technology in [Japan/China/Europe] is going to overtake us!!" was one of those "liberal myths". Then someone pointed out that it's just a self-serving myth that happens to jive with certain political dispositions and biases. Academia (in the US) deliberately propagates it because it helps them get more research dollars, and the media amplifies it because doomsday predictions always make good copy. Nevertheless, I have to wonder why some of my friends have trouble thinking clearly when they tell me with a perfectly straight face and complete conviction that science research in China and India is going to overtake the US very soon.
As for myself, I think the "science gap" is only going to widen (and some of you may accuse me of being unable to think clearly :-) My biases are aligned with this article
, which claims:
If this statistic of Nobel prizes is a valid measure of revolutionary science, then the main conclusion is that the USA has emerged to become the only nation that supports revolutionary science on a large scale.