Visionary Nanofutures: V

In its emergence, nanotechnology is the stuff of science-fiction made real, while science-fictions are the dreams of science. Alone each is amorphous, but together nano and sci-fi set up a mutual interference pattern that results in a visionary quantum collapse. The interactions of scientific innovation and imaginative storytelling create atoms of nanotechnoscientific belief. From these atoms, materials with miraculous properties, a revolution in chemistry, and the universal molecular assembler among others, stakeholders conceive a future which justifies their favored version of nanotechnology. Their “tall and slender tower of reasoning” acts as a scaffolding around which scientists and policymakers design the concrete basis of a nanofuture, and it is from this base that science-fiction authors write the next generation of visions; the cycle repeats itself. Nanovisions can be self-reinforcing, or mutually destructive. If the course of nanotechnology veers away from molecular assembly, Engines of Creation becomes more and more fantastical, and less relevant to contemporary discourse. Conversely, as long as Engines continues to inspire nanotechnologists, molecular assembly will be pursued, even if it is far beyond the current state of the art. Nanotechnology's visionary qualities opens doors for an examination of social and political issues. The future worlds imagined by nanotechnology call into question the failures of our current society; inequality, inefficiency, and the near unshakeable faith in technological progress that defined the 20th century. Most people possess reflexive political opinions on these issues, when questioned, they respond by instinct rather than reasoned consideration. Science-fiction shatters our preconceptions. By changing the context, it frees people to consider what is truly important without overtly threatening their self-image. Though an engineer might openly proclaim that technology is value neutral, and only its applications have moral weight, a science-fictional analysis of nanotechnology permits him to learn that technology cannot be separated from applications; every artifact is political. Because nanotechnology presents such pressing issues of economic competitiveness and national security, yet requires long term commitments, it encourages policymakers to look up from the tactical skirmishing of politics and focus on “that vision thing.” Even if the technical promise of nanotechnology falls through, like so many grandiose visions before, the deep debate it has already stimulated is valuable in and of itself. Speculation is a game, but games prepare us for the test. By prefiguring the course and implications of nanotechnology, visionary nanofictions strengthen society for the stresses of a technological revolution.

Part IV

Thank you very much for staying through this lengthly series. Originally, this was an assignment for Michael Bennett's class on nanotechnology, Molecular Coordinates. I hope that these essays have been interesting and thought provoking, and I am sure that I will return to these themes, particularly interaction of science-fiction and policy making.


  1. Anonymous27.12.09

    "Alone each is amorphous, but together nano and sci-fi set up a mutal interference pattern that results in a visionary quantum collapse."

    This may be the greatest sentence ever.

  2. http://www.well.com/conf/inkwell.vue/topics/373/Bruce-Sterling-State-of-the-Worl-page01.html

    an interesting read.

  3. also, this warrants further investigation


  4. Just saw these, and might I add, as usual, "Damn you Bruce Sterling!"