So nanotechnology really does have two different meanings. One is the broad, stretched version meaning any technology dealing with something less than 100 nanometeres in size. The other is the original meaning: designing and buildign machines in which every atom and chemical bond is specified precisely. I’ll refer to the former as nanoscale technology…The capabilites and dangers of nanoscale technology are simple and straightforward extensions of current trends in the capabilities and dangers of chemistry, materials science, and microfabrication. The majority of techniques being discovered and trumpeteed as the ‘latest thing in nanotechnology’ today will be obsolete in ten years.
When I use nanotechnology in this book, I mean the original, atomically precise, sense of the word…Where a term is needed to make the distinction the best wrd seems to be eutactic. Eutactic means ‘well ordered’ and has the same import in the context of nanotechnology as the phrases atomically precise or low entropy. –Nanofuture, p.21 (Italics in Original)
And this from Scientific American’s Understanding Nanotechnology
Although nanotechnology is an enterprise of the future, nanoscience is a very much robust field today…Collectively this body of work is laying a solid foundation for future nanotechnology. In fact, over the past two decades we have learned much from science at the mesoscale, at dimensions between the atomic realm and those of the everyday ‘macroworld.’ Mesoscopic science has repeatedly demonstrated spectacular ways in whc our intuition and, more importantly, conventional approaches to extrapolative prediction, can fail as we shrink the sizes of structures to the realm at which their underlying physics is determined….
Despite being ‘nanoscopic’ (that is, of nanometer dimensions), mesoscopic structures comprise fundamental building blocks in numbers that are too large, in general, to allow easy theoretical modeling using conventional approaches of quantum physics or chemistry….
It is precisely upon such complex systems that nanotechnology will be built–nanoscale systems that are too large to be considered molecules, but not yet large enough to transcend the seemingly exotic mesoscopic world back to the ordinary realm of macroscopic. –Foreward, pp.viii-ix
Now, I don’t have the scientific, engineering, and/or mathematical competencies to really approach this topic from the inside. My background is more in history of science/technology, cultural worldview shifts, and so forth.
But as Hall says, this nanotechnology will be the Second Industrial Revolution–he considers computers and information technology to be the most complex development of the 1st Industrial Revolution, and he has a point, given that the primary fuels driving the engine of this Industrialization for the last 200 years has been petroleum and coal-based.
So taking the First Industrial Revolution–sliced into two phases, industrial and informational–and note the corresponding degree of societal change. It is immense.
On the beneficial side of Industrialization-Modernization:
–Elimination of many diseases
–Overall worldwide rise in per capita economic output
–Freeing up of women to enter the laborforce, either factories or mental workforce, and the consequent rise of Feminism
–Abolition of Slavery: without machine-labor, every agricultural society on the planet had slavery in one form or another.
–Worldwide Communication and Travel
–Flowering of Liberal Constitutional, Rule-of-Law and recognition of Pluralistic Societies.
–The Ennumeration of Basic Human Rights, never to be abrogated by civil society or political entities.
The Dark Sides of Industrialization-Modernization
–Especially in the early phase: ecological destruction, dangerous workplace environments, long hours, child labor in factories
–Massive transplantation of humans from agricultural-countryside environs to urban sectors. In countries without a large enough industrial base to keep up, huge poor sprawls and megalopolises, like Lima, Manila, Lagos, Mexico City
–The ripping of individuals from traditional ways of life, culture.
–Anomie, the vast pervasive sense of loneliness, isolation, and disorientation in the modern urban world, where the pace of life increases proportionally to the degree of industrialization.
–Disparities between rich and poor
–Rise of Fundamenatlist, anti-modern reactionary movements, some open to violence
–Rise of Totalitarian, Collectivist Forms of Governance, i.e. Fascism and Communism with gulags, police states, and concentration camps.
–Military-Industrial Complex and the exponential rise in civilian casualties in mechanized warfare.
All from the first industrialization. Without industrialization, the political, philosophical, religious, cultural, scientific advances of modern Western thought would never have made a substantial impact. Technology brings greater power and therefore responsibility vis a vis the natural forces. It is this depth that opens up space for society to express itself in more profound ways–sometimes more profoundly destructive, other times more profoundly empowering.
Nanotech will be bring yet another layer (or more) of depth to technology. I am not someone who sees technology as inherently anti-thetical to creation. I define the human as the Evolving Universe Aware of Itself thinking. And our thinking has been from the beginning about radical change and transformation, transforming even the very environment in which we live. All organisms live in a dialectical relationship with Nature–they both change the landscape and adapt to it.
The human species, in that sense, is no different, just incredibly more powerful in its ability to change. We have mastered the natural world. Nanotech very well could be an even more powerful digging into the very mesoscopic world, allowing us to re-fashion this planet literally atom by atom.
There is no going back. Human beings flock from the fields to the cities because they do not want to spend their lives toiling in back-breaking labor, disconnected, parochial in their vision. Human beings deserve the chance to have their work in life be of more value.
The Industrial Revolution only brought us so far, and the early Industrial phases are brutal. They are deeply undiginifed and in many cases inhumane.
On the other hand, we know from experience, that large numbers of (mainly young male) of unemployed are not beneficial either. If our technologies reach a point at which we no longer need humans to grow food or work in factories, that opens up the possibility (depth-wise) for humans to live their lives based on expression, transcendence, service, communion, and worship. We know, however, that freedom is not exercised by all those in our world who need not work.
The light therefore of Nanotechnology could be even lighter and the shadow more ominous and foreboding.
Hall is an unabashedly in favor of colonization of space. He thinks we have overrun this planet and that our searching transformative species code must send us to space. I’d liike to go on an interstellar vacation, but the idea of permanent settlement off our home frightens me in many ways.
We have spent so much time building consciousness on this planet. Our perspectives are so tuned to our earthly existence. Every creature is born at square one. By moving to space will small groups, re-tribalize? Hall, like many scientists, is very libertarian in his outlook. He sees government and instituttions as almost always part of the problem and not the solution. He is not lacking in proof for the idea that government, institutions, collectives act in irrational, counterproductive, and coercive, explotative ways. Human relations are always messy.
I don’t want the individualist bootstrap American philosophy of pragmatism to be the number one export to space. I’m not sure what the deeper value of largely disconnected nuclear-style families and small communities in space affords, other than a Masculine-desire not to be involved, re-lated, and connected with beings.
Obviously until the biosphere is objectified we will never be able to include it in a healthy way. In other words, until there are strong space settlements, and humans can literally see and envision the entire Earth, then they will not inherently identify themselves as members of Earth, as opposed to more tribal, national, familial, racial, political, and class identities. See the accounts of astronauts like Buzz Aldrin for proof of this assertion.
But to fly off into space and abandon earth is all negation and no preservation. Pathological Eros gone mad.
As this discussion begins to get stronger and stronger, an intellligent discourse will be retarded by the fact that the scientific community (especially in the States) as it approaches political-religious-cultural entities will be unconsciously interpreting the scientific evidence through their own (mostly unquestioned) political-social assumptions. Other groups will correctly pick upon some of the more libertarian (and even misanthropic, in extreme cases) modes of thought, conflicting with their own vision. The science will therefore, as Kuhn rightly argued, be caught up in intra-scientific battles, political-monetary PR campaigns, and social protest. Issues of power, politics, and ideational warfare could ensue.
As Rifkin has said, humans have defined themselves in large measure in relation to their work. But if we do truly produce mass-scale replicators, will humans need to work in the same capacities as they currently do. Replicators are a possible technological breakthrough of nanotechnology. A replicator is a small machine that will literally be able to produce basically anything simply from “scratch”, assembling the product atom-by-atom. Maybe a flying car.
The speed at which mass-produced industrialization brings the price of initially high-cost goods down is itself increasing. Nanotech., on the whole, would likely increase that trend even further. In the short term, however, the question might be: if initially such replicators only exist in the hands of militaries, the wealthy, and governments, would so they produce and amass such wealth so quickly as to put them more or less beyond the pale of the mass of humanity?
And what occurs if such a small segment, basically does detach (and combined with questions of genetic enhacement this gets I think scary fairly quickly), perhaps even into space in a worst case scenario, like a World Economic Forum helicophter off the roof of Hanoi into outspace. What if the populace is left with the ability to live off the products, no longer needing to work, but without strong security, intelligence and social capital, what then occurs?
As horrendously corrupt and inefficient as human collectives are, at least they keep people together.
We have seen with the initial phases of industrialization-modenrization that there exist an extremely small slice of enormously wealthy and powerful individuals. In the United States for example, the amount of wealthy, by our standars, is only 2%. Only 2% of the American populace retires with more than is needed. Most Americans, especially the Middle Class require subsidies, Medicare, Social Security, etc., all of which is leading to the enormous inflationary rise. They are now governmental-sponsored monsters, and at the current rate will not last solvently for my generation. This small segment, through its practice of inter-marriage, business contacts, and political patronage, has power and influence the likes of which, regular Americans like me, have no concept of.
So there are the extremly wealthy, a huge mass, especially throughout the developing world of the poor trying to make the transition to an industrialized-information economy, though mostly caught in a no-man’s-land between agricultural-agararian base and the sought after modern economy. Depending on the location and situation, many of these poor (males) likely organize to take care of their own security and advance their own political agendas. The violence that ensues is mostly local in nature. Like in the United States, most violence perpetrated upon blacks is committed by blacks. The same is true in other developing economies–say large swaths of the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Central-Southeast Asia.
Only a few, a select select few from such parts of the world exist become radicalized for worldwide, ideological terrorism, such as in al-Qaeda. The nubmer of such individuals is always likely to be very small, even if a state of local violence continues in many countries. The real fear of course being that in the first industrial phase, such a small group of dedicated, ideological, zealots could carry out such damage as in the 9/11 attacks, what would such a still small group be able to committ in a nano-tech era?
As Wilber has said, we need a corresponding Human Memome Project to balance the Genome Project. Our mastery-understanding of the physical and biological worlds will increase enormously and quickly in the next few decades, but we still are an ignorant species, ignorant of our own place in the universe, ignorant of our purpose.
We must return to this purpose, this evolutionary unfolding and create institutions that seek to allow people to flow through these waves of development, expressing the best aspects of themselves, allowing them to be defended from both above and below, while preventing any wave from attacking either above or below (unless in legitimate defense).
It is a huge task. Otherwise we may just continue these patterns of increasing disparities of wealth.
The faces of the rich and poor however could change.
What I found the most interesting was Hall’s history of the first industrial revolution. French science in the 18th century was the pinnacle worldwide. Their scientfic endeavors were supported by the government, institutionalized in the colleges, and respected throughout the culture. In England by contrast professors were still bound by Religious Tests (Newton was an Unitarian, a non-Trinitarian Christian but he had to keep this quiet for fear of the authorities).
England’s best and brightest scientifically were sent out of educational-theoretical pursuits, to more small-scale engineering and production. It is for this reason that the British came to control the 1st phase of modernization and industrialization, as opposed to the French who looked to be in the lead position.
Hall then states the US and Europe like the French, focusing on the theoretical aspects. Who then will become the British of the Nanotech Revolution? China, India, or even more interestingly he points to states in the Global South who may desire to leapfrog technologically? Who have the most to gain and the least to lose by going straight to the implementaion and invention, focusing not on the scientific-theoretical understandings.
Who knows, but we have only begun to scratch the surface on these important discussions of the future of meaning and our place in the world as a species.