Viernes 28 de Diciembre de 2001, Ip nļ 9

Don't fear science you can't see
Por Patrick Mcgee

Nanotechnology promises to radically transform areas as diverse as computing and medicine. But researchers need to spend some time educating a public that may be either oblivious to the emerging field or nervous about potential abuses.

"The Luddites are out there," Glenn H. Reynolds, a specialist on technology law at the University of Tennessee College of Law, said here Friday at Nanotech Planet 2001 conference.

"I think itís very important to be ahead of the curve on this," said Reynolds, who discussed the legal challenges facing nanotechnology. "There will be an anti-nanotech movement, just like there was an anti-biotech movement. If itís not acted on quickly, it will grow."

People such as Kirkpatrick Sales and Jeremy Rifkin have begun to criticize nanotechnology, which is the manipulation of matter at the nanometer level. A nanometer is one-millionth the diameter of a human hair.

Some have drawn attention to a widely read essay by Bill Joy that appeared in Wired magazine last year. It painted a bleak picture, and Joy fretted that self-replicating nanobots were more dangerous than nuclear weapons and that nanotech research should be abandoned.

Never mind the fact that self-replicating nanobots donít even exist, Reynolds said: "Improbability and far-fetchedness does not limit what people will worry about."

Reynolds believes that instead of regulating technology, society should focus on keeping it out of the hands of the wrong people. "Nanobots donít kill people; people kill people," he said.

To put the public at ease, nanotechnology researchers and startups need to focus on education. They also need to explore and acknowledge the potential downsides of the technology, not just tout its promise. "If you establish a track record of being honest, people will respond," he said.

Some are already heavily involved in education. Steve Lenhert, 24, is the co-founder of a startup called Quanteq, which focuses on nanotech education and networking.

Lenhert is an American PhD student at the University of MŁnster in Germany, specializing in scanning probe microscopy, a tool used to see and manipulate material at the nanoscale. He also co-moderates the sci.nanotech newsgroup.

"Itís about education," Lenhert said during an interview. "The National Nanotechnology Initiative said to educate people, so thatís what Iím trying to do. I just want to see the technology progress."

He also wants people to understand the incredible attraction that nanotechnology has for him. "At the nanoscale, everything is organized; there are these planetary orbits. My motivation is to try to tap into the order thatís there," Lenhert said.

He is skeptical about some of the doomsday scenarios that have sprung up around the field. "What can you do? Youíre not going to build a nanomachine with what we have now," he said.

Others are interested in drawing younger people to the field and they believe education is key.

"The biggest challenge in this country to keep our lead in this field is to get our kids interested in science and engineering. If we donít get more kids interested in those subjects, this whole thing is going to implode," said LeMar A. Hill, director of business development for Albany NanoTech, a partnership between the University of Albany, industry, and state and federal government.

The need for education is even more pressing now because many foreign workers are leaving the United States due to booming tech economies at home. "We have to do a better job of educating the public. We have to foster technology; we canít be afraid of it," Hill said.


  12/01/2001. Wired Magazine.