Thursday, February 15, 2007

The new introduction to Engines

Well, I promised a comment when I had read the introduction to the 20th Anniversary edition of Engines of Creation a little more in depth. I don't feel much of a need to reread the entire book, though I will probably scan through it from time to time.

My feeling of the introduction is first that it detracts from the rest of the book. It reads like someone who is upset that the government didn't fund his ideas and instead funded someone else's. As a non-casual reader (someone who has been involved in nanotechnology development), I'm not sure I really care all that much. I'm pretty sure a more casual reader won't really care at all. The description of Dr. Drexler's exchange with Prof. Smalley is also lacking. Dr. Drexler writes that Prof. Smalley had failed to refute his ideas (therefore, I suppose we are to assume, Dr. Drexler's ideas on molecular manufacturing must be true). I've never seen science to work this way. It seems to me that impetus of proof is on the developer of the new idea. And, besides, when I read the exchange when it first came out in 2003 it struck me that Prof. Smalley made some very valid points that need to be answered and accounted for if molecular manufacturing is ever going to gain much traction.

Towards the end of the non-"Looking Forward" section of the introduction, Drexler also makes this criticism of the modern world: "readers of a controversial document can’t easily see the best-rated criticisms, and so critics can’t respond where it would matter most. And so the Web presents knowledge and nonsense almost as equals, and amplifies both. At both the surface and depths of the computational world, there’s a need for new structures." Users of Technorati and countless other current and developing Web services would disagree with this criticism. And besides, it is out of place. This complaint is the same one that Prof. Cass Sunstein lays down in It's useful, but not related to nanotechnology (or molecular manufacturing).

Anyway, those are my brief thoughts on the introduction to the 20th Anniversary edition of Engines of Creation.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Engines of Creation 2.0

WOWIO is offering Engines of Creation 2.0 for free download. I read the book (1.0 in paperback) about 6 years ago when I first got to grad school. It's definitely worth reading if you are interested in Nanotechnology and the implications of it. It you haven't read it, get it for free and read it from the PDF (you have to have an email address from a .edu, .mil, .gov, or .us address).

I have my own issues with molecular manufacturing and focusing on it (basically, I'm skeptical, it isn't what nanotechnology researchers actually do in the lab, and some of the predictions that are made on the effect to things like international relations, economics, and other fields completely out of the realm of science are pretty unsubstantiated and are wild speculation). But the book is important in understanding a lot of the discussion that goes on in discussing the future of nanotechnology (particularly where the Foresight Institute is involved).

Also, Ray Kurzweil's endorsement of the book, putting it on par with Newton's Principia is an extreme exageration of the impact of the book on science and the world. Furthermore (and of course I realize that they're trying to push the book), the book description also says that "Engines of Creation laid the theoretical foundation for the modern field of nanotechnology." Ummm... see my above comment about how nanotechnology as it is researched today is pretty far from what is laid out in the book. It probably doesn't help in educating the public about technology in general and nanotechnology in particular to use these types of hyperbole.

[Update] - I should note that I haven't yet read the introduction to the new edition but I've skimmed it and I will definitely have comments on it soon