Monday, November 10, 2003

An article in the Sunday NY Times described the world's tiniest guitar, ten microns long, fabricated from silicon. It was an amusing article, generally well done, but at the end there was a reference to Michael Crichton's Prey and the book by Dr. Martin Rees which includes berserk nanorobots among the technological threats to the future of mankind. I was reminded of Dyson's article in the New York Review of Books critiquing such arguments. I was also reminded of another article Times article I'd just read, entitled Does Science Matter? To summarize in an exaggerated way, the point of the article is that a large fraction of the American public is willfully ignorant, frightened, or perhaps just bored of science.

Actually, that's not much of an exaggeration.

Science and technology are not Faust's devil, Pandora's box, or the broomsticks of the sorcerer's apprentice. Those stories are powerful myths, and perhaps useful metaphors. But hyper-intelligent nanorobots seem like a ridiculous sort of bogeyman when you consider not only that they're physically implausible (see Dyson's article), but also how little success we've had in building any sort of machines with even a fraction of the general cognitive ability of a human. For that matter, building a water-carrying robot takes some doing -- much more doing than waving a wand.

I would rather wonder at what we're finding out about the universe and what we're learning to construct, and worry about the wisdom of our politicians. I know some would wonder at the wisdom of our politicians and worry that we're learning too much about the universe, but I find such an attitude perplexing.

Perhaps it's even more perplexing than the calculation I was doing before this procrastination break.

  • Currently drinking: Apple cider