X-Message-Number: 21516
From: "MIKE TREDER" <>
Subject: Nanotechnology Conference Report 
Date: Sun, 30 Mar 2003 23:09:42 -0500

From March 20-23, 2003, I joined about 40 other serious-minded people in 
attending a  Discovering the Nanoscale  international conference at the 
University of South Carolina in Columbia, SC, USA. Almost all of the 
attendees were professors or academics, around 60% of them from USC. 
Approximately 20% of the attendees were from institutions of higher learning 
in Europe, and the rest were from other colleges and universities in the 
United States.

Conference attendees represented an interesting mix of disciplines. About 
40% were from the  hard sciences , such as physics, chemistry, engineering, 
and biology. The majority were from other fields, including history, 
English, journalism, and law. But the most widely represented field was 
philosophy. This was presumably because the Philosophy Department at USC was 
primarily responsible for conceiving, planning, and presenting the 
conference. I was pleased to see that a large number of people with diverse 
backgrounds and points of view would assemble to consider the important 
questions raised by nanotechnology.

We began on Thursday evening with a panel discussion of Michael Chrichton s 
controversial novel, Prey. Almost everyone agreed that the science in the 
book is not very accurate, but there was far less agreement about the value 
of the work as a novel, or about the impact it might have on the development 
of nanotechnology. Some speakers and audience members defended the book as a 
work of fiction by a talented writer, and said that the author of a novel 
should not be expected to get all of the science right. I made the point 
that if Chrichton is writing a novel that includes highly questionable 
science, he should not give it false legitimacy by including a scholarly 
introduction and scientific bibliography. Most people seemed to agree that 
bringing public attention to the possible risks and ethical questions of 
advanced nanotechnology is a good thing. Some, however, were concerned about 
having the terms of debate framed by a writer whose novels read more like 
film treatments.

On Friday morning we turned our attention to more serious topics, beginning 
with four speakers commenting on Epistemology and Methodology. The afternoon 
session included three presentations on Instrumentation. It was interesting 
for me to see how much discussion there was in the afternoon about the 
difficulties in seeing and knowing what we are seeing at the molecular 
level. The last speaker of the day was Hans Glimell, from Goteberg 
University in Sweden, who delivered a fascinating speech about the politics 
involved in exploring the possibilities of nanotechnology.

I had lunch on Friday with several participants, including Joseph Pitt from 
Virginia Tech and Emmanuelle Boubour from Rice University. Both expressed 
interest in the work that CRN is doing. Friday evening a group of us had 
dinner at a nice outdoor restaurant near USC. I had a long, productive, and 
enjoyable conversation with Rosalyn Berne from the University of Virginia. 
She is writing a book based on interviews with a number of nanotech 

Saturday morning began with three presentations on Interdisciplinarity and 
the Science-Technology Relation, and two presenters on Science and 
Technology Policy. In his remarks, Jody Roberts of Virginia Tech frequently 
referred to an article by Paul C. Lin-Easton, subtitled  A Call for the 
Involvement of Environmental Lawyers in Developing Precautionary Policies 
for Molecular Nanotechnology . In this regard, I would call the attention of 
readers to CRN s paper, Applying the Precautionary Principle to 
Nanotechnology, available online at http://www.crnano.org/precautionary.htm.

The weather was beautiful in South Carolina, so several of us had a picnic 
lunch on Saturday near a fountain on the campus. I had a good talk with 
conference organizers Davis Baird of USC, and Alfred Nordmann of Technische 
Universitat Darmstadt, Germany. They are already well along with plans for a 
follow-up conference to be held October 10-12, 2003, in Germany.

On Saturday afternoon, we started with three presentations on Rhetoric and 
Beliefs, followed by three speakers on Ethics, Politics, and Technology 
Assessment. Presenters discussed looming issues of privacy, intellectual 
property, extended human lifespans, and even gray goo. The last speaker on 
Saturday was Mark Gubrud of the University of Maryland, who led us through 
an alarming assessment of the military implications of nanotech. A key point 
was that using accessible language and avoiding hyperbole would improve 
communication about all these issues. I noticed that apparently there is 
extensive misunderstanding about the most likely developmental sequence for 
molecular nanotechnology. CRN will probably work on an article to clarify 

There was a concluding banquet on Saturday night, which unfortunately I was 
unable to attend because I had to get back to New York. Overall this was an 
outstanding conference. Amid all the talk about the economic potential of 
nanotech, it is extremely important that we take some time to focus on the 
societal implications and potential risks of such a powerful new technology. 
I came away from the conference with renewed conviction that CRN s call for 
international cooperation in developing and administering advanced 
nanotechnology is the right approach.


For more information on CRN, see www.CRNano.org. If you would like to be 
added to our newsletter list, please visit 
http://responsiblenanotechnology.org/contact.htm, or just send me an email.

See you in the future!

Mike Treder

Executive Director, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology - 
Director, World Transhumanist Association - http://transhumanism.org
Executive Advisory Team, Extropy Institute - http://extropy.org
Founder, Incipient Posthuman Website - http://incipientposthuman.com
KurzweilAI "Big Thinker" - http://kurzweilai.net/bios/frame.html

Interests: acting, architecture, art, baseball, bicycling, cosmology, film, 
future studies, hiking, history, music, nanotech, people, science fiction, 
writing, & more

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