It Cuts Both Ways: American Majority Deems Nanotechnology Immoral
February 23, 2008 1:57 AM
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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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2/24/2008 2:06:26 PM
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.
"Paying an extra $500 for a computer in this environment -- same piece of hardware -- paying $500 more to get a logo on it? I think that's a more challenging proposition for the average person than it used to be." -- Steve Ballmer
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