Friday, July 22, 2011

the nanofuture / science and science fiction

so there are wonderful books, like neal stephenson's The Diamond Age, that engage nanotechnology and the ways it will reshape the future. now eric drexler, the man most responsible for present nanotech research, has a new "non-fiction" book coming out next year. 

although i put non-fiction in scare quotes, i look forward to reading it. the scare quotes are not to indicate i think his book will be irrelevant or untrue. indeed, i think drexler's a genius and many of his claims may well turn out true (though certainly others will not). it's just that between sci-fi and pop science, it's often difficult to tell which one portrays the future more truly.

as i've pointed out elsewhere, the interesting thing about pop science books like drexler's is not that they're necessarily more informative than science fiction or that they're going to be more likely's that they lay claim to a scientific prestige that legitimates them in different audiences. drexler asserts that his book will be valuable, for example, to policy experts. well, i'd say stephenson's book or doctorow's Eastern Standard Tribes also say interesting things about policy and are likely to be as helpful as drexler's for politicians navigating the future (which is to say that they'll either be utterly prescient or utterly worthless and no one knows which). and yet, when a sci-fi author writes about the future there's a certain social cachet missing and i've yet to decide if that's fair.

that said, i look forward to drexler's new effort and will purchase it when i can.


  1. I have read many science fiction books, many pop science books, and many serious science and policy books. In each of these three categories there are great books, good books, and bad books. I prefer a great book to a good book, and a good book to a bad book, regardless of the category. I would agree that The Diamond Age and Eastern Standard Tribe are quite relevant to policy.


  3. The latest on Grey Goo in the UK:

  4. This is the book by Martin Rees, where he discusses his views about the possibility of grey goo:

    Our Final Hour: A Scientist's Warning: How terror, Error, and Environmental Disaster Threaten Humankind's Future in This Century - Earth and Beyond (ISBN 9780465068630)