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 Republic.com. 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.

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