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A one thousand-year-old history lesson awaits those who would deem the cutting edge wicked

Damascus steel was forged using a process of carbon doping iron in a smelting and quenching process.  This steel became famous almost a thousand years ago; it was said a Damascus sword would cut through falling silk, a rock, and then another piece of silk while still keeping its razor sharp edge. 

The ability to make the Damascus steel was lost with the ages.   Blademasters would often take the secret of the forging process to the grave rather than reveal its mysteries. Many were persecuted as heretics, others heralded as deities.

A study by a University of Wisconsin-Madison revealed that more than 70% of 1,015 surveyed Americans deem nanotechnology morally repulsive.  Professor Dietram Scheufele attributes this repugnance for technology to American reliance on religion. 

It's easy to say that perhaps the 1,000 Americans surveyed are just not that bright.  Scheufele disagrees, stating, "They are rejecting it based on religious beliefs. The issue isn't about informing these people. They are informed."

Scheufele believes that Americans who disprove of nanotechnology do not want humans "playing God."  That is, man manipulating structures of one nanometer, one billionth of a meter, is akin to God manipulating the forces of the universe.

In 2006 German researcher Peter Paufler discovered (with the aid of a sub-nanotechnology, the electron microscope) that a four hundred-year-old Damascus steel sword gained its incredible properties from carbon nanotube structures within the blade's edge.  Fifteen years earlier NEC created the world's first synthetic nanotube. One year later it was awarded the patent for one of the sharpest materials on earth, a plasma polished carbon nanotube blade.

Science has always bordered on the fence of terrifying and mysterious.  Civilization lost the secrets of Damascus steel making when then modern thinkers deemed it a practice of deus ex hominis.

Attempting to describe the morality of natural phenomena leads to an exercise in natural fallacy. Not once, in the history of mankind, has science ever been proven immoral -- and conversely -- nor has it ever been proven moral either. 

Will society deitize nano-researchers as modern day Damascus blademasters, or will it learn to look beyond the meta-ethics of natural phenomena for a change?


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Brilliant
By James Holden on 2/23/2008 3:42:14 AM , Rating: 5
Kris, It was not long ago I discovered you're only 25. This is an outstanding post.




RE: Brilliant
By Dianoda on 2/23/2008 5:57:54 AM , Rating: 3
Something I've noticed over the last 20 years is how much technological improvements have sped up. The rate of advancement is increasing faster than any of us are prepared for. But it is important to realize that there are consequences to such a rapid pace.

The human race, as a collective of rational beings, has been given responsibility over this planet. As guardians of the life that exists here, how can we ensure that we act as and remain as guardians? I believe that this is the greatest challenge to mankind: can we, as a species, adequately protect the very planet that sustains us? As the number of humans living on this planet increases, and our race’s power over the natural world grows, will we discover that we are capable of preserving our world, or that we are unfit for such a task?

Technology has allowed us to improve human life, to be sure, but at what costs? We can't really answer that question. We are too rash a species; we don't know all the consequences of our actions. Also, our analysis of human destiny, our final purpose, is fragile, and incomplete. Without such knowledge we run the risk of being mistaken.

Kris, the human race simply can not refuse to question its own progress. We do so because the chance exists that we are wrong. Such questioning acts as a compass for our research, our goals, and has played a large part in the shaping of our world. It is highly unlikely that progress towards improving nanotechnology slows down due to such meta-ethics issues. But it can and should be argued that the human race has attained and continues to attain capabilities that are in excess of its demonstrated ability as responsible steward of the planet. We have some maturing to do before we claim powers that even we typically reserve for the divine.


RE: Brilliant
By brenatevi on 2/23/2008 6:18:35 AM , Rating: 2
Science isn't moral or immoral, but the use of science can be either. We have to be very careful how we use the science. We have to ask ourselves "Is this the right thing to do?" The problem with the breakneck speeds of advancing science is that when we stumble, it's a big stumble, and there's great potential for lots of people dying. Just look at nuclear power. Although it has the potential to improve so many lives, but because of Chernoble and Three Mile Island, people would rather burn fossil fuels than use it. Nanotech has as much potential to do harm as it does to do good. We have to ask those in charge, those that are making these advances possible to be very, very careful.


RE: Brilliant
By KristopherKubicki (blog) on 2/23/2008 11:58:20 AM , Rating: 2
A topic I've pushed extensively here is the call for nanotechnology awareness. I'll quote another post of mine here:

http://www.dailytech.com/article.aspx?newsid=10813...

quote:
At one time, we encouraged asbestos to no end. It was the miracle material. CNTs and buckeyballs are todays miracle materials.

A year ago, I called for awareness into this field. Not because I want CNT development halted, but because I think if we understand the risks before plunging headlong into them, we (the scientific community) can pre-emptively counter the naysayers with logical, clearly defined studies.

http://www.dailytech.com/A+Call+for+Nanopollution+...

I strongly advise anyone involved in the field of CNT research to start the analysis now and do it in an honest and thorough manner.


At some point, miracle science has nothing to do with morality, but a threat of danger. "I am become Death, the shatterer of worlds," said Oppenheimer after witnessing the first nuclear detonation. Yet the world would be a very different place without nuclear sciences.

We can calculate specific risks of new technologies, assuming we understand them well enough, and then adjust our lifestyles and deployment of those technologies accordingly.

Even that is not a question of morality. It's just statistics and risk assement somewhere along the line.


RE: Brilliant
By Ringold on 2/24/2008 2:06:26 PM , Rating: 2
You've got a long, but important, road ahead of you for nanotech awareness. Some environmentalists have already chosen that field, in one broad stroke, to be the next target of their own holy wrath. It seems most groups are waiting until they've already successfuly snarled the entire planet in greenhouse gas reduction / economic retardent measures before moving on, but I've also noticed some have already started to spread FUD.

If scientists and engineers don't educate the public quick enough then environmentalists will fill the void. Then we have something like Europe and their anti-GM food crop idiocy, a generation of lost progress. At least, in this nation we would lose a generation. China, no doubt, will be very happy to take any ball we drop and run with it.


RE: Brilliant
By Enoch2001 on 2/23/2008 8:14:41 AM , Rating: 2
Agreed - brilliant post Kris. Probably the best commentary I have ever read here. Bravo!


"And boy have we patented it!" -- Steve Jobs, Macworld 2007














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