8/12/2005

Telegraph | Spare us all from royal nanoangst

Prince Charles is alarmed by.. nanotechnology [namely the grey goo problem] The only grey goo that really worries me is the stuff between the Prince's ears... Yet again, Charles seems inspired by the opportunism of the Green movement, which has identified nanotechnology as its new milch cow... if a "proto prince" was around when [fire was discovered:] .. You can sterilise food, make it taste better and stay warm, says the inventor. But you can also burn people, torch their houses and reduce their crops to charcoal, replies the Stone Age prince... Hundreds of years ago, there were nanotechnologists who shuffled atoms around. They were called alchemists. Today, their (perfected) art is known as chemistry.

Roger Highfield reports on the Prince's distaste for grey goo

Prince Charles is alarmed by a recent report (The Big Down) which spells out the "incalculable risks" of nanotechnology, so much so that he wants to discuss the burgeoning field with experts proposed by the Royal Society.


I wonder what would have happened if a "proto prince" was around when one of our smarter ancestors figured out how to make fire by rubbing sticks together.

You can sterilise food, make it taste better and stay warm, says the inventor. But you can also burn people, torch their houses and reduce their crops to charcoal, replies the Stone Age prince.

Perhaps it would have been better to shiver for a few thousand years more, rather than step into the unknown. After all, this is the "precautionary approach" recommended in the report that has so inspired Charles; squander future opportunities rather than accept the responsibilities that come with the application of science.

There is nothing intrinsically good or bad about nanotechnology, just what we do with it. In the short term, beneficial uses range from tougher (nanostructured) materials to faster microchips. Wild-eyed enthusiasts also dream of nanobots that attack cancer cells in the body, and factories smaller than the head of a pin.

There will also be bad applications. Equally wild-eyed nano-Luddites agonise over military nanobots that can take over a body. And there are fears about technology getting out of hand (a self-replicating swarm of nanobots converts everything to grey goo in Michael Crichton's book Prey.)

The only grey goo that really worries me is the stuff between the Prince's ears. Just once, it would be nice to hear him acknowledge the achievements of science, rather than knock it (he was nowhere to be seen during last week's DNA celebrations).

Yet again, Charles seems inspired by the opportunism of the Green movement, which has identified nanotechnology as its new milch cow.

We have to ignore the nanohype, both pessimistic and optimistic, and weigh the benefits of each nanotechnology against the risks. That's all. Nothing new there. Nothing new about the technology, either.

Hundreds of years ago, there were nanotechnologists who shuffled atoms around. They were called alchemists. Today, their (perfected) art is known as chemistry.

Telegraph | Connected | Spare us all from royal nanoangst

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