The Flat Horizon Problem nanotechnology on an upward slope Mike Treder, Executive Director Center for Responsible Nanotechnology
Stand by the ocean, looking out. It is rare in nature to find a truly flat line, but that’s what the horizon appears to be.
Of course, the horizon is not a flat line. It curves, but gradually, and it isn’t easy for us to detect the curve. In truth, it’s not a line at all, because the earth has no edge.
We can understand, though, why many premodern societies believed the earth to be flat, with an edge somewhere. After all, that’s how it looks.
Now, stand in the present, looking toward the future. Does it look pretty much like today, except more modern? In reality, the future holds many changes: some transformative, some beneficial, and some dangerous.
The most disruptive future changes may occur as a result of molecular manufacturing , an advanced form of nanotechnology.
But if the future really will be so different from today, why doesn’t it look that way from here?
The Intuitive Linear View Time Change The problem is human perspective, what Ray Kurzweil calls the “ Intuitive Linear View .” When we see something that looks like a straight line, we naturally assume that it is. Although change occurs around us every day, unless we look closely we may not notice it. So, we logically think that last week, last month, and last year were like today, and that next year and a few years after that won’t be much different either.
Now, stand on the rails of a roller coaster, just before the climb up the highest hill (in your imagination only!).
Ant Crouch down low, until your eye is even with the track. Get an ant’s eye view…
To an ant, the track looks totally flat, like it goes on flat forever. The ant can’t see far enough. In reality, the track gradually curves upwards.
Standing up, you, the human, can see the slope ahead and the smooth incline of the track.
Walk up the track toward the big hill. The further you go, the steeper the curve becomes. If you look back, it’s clear how high you have ascended. But crouch down for the ant’s eye view again, and what do you see?
The ant sees more flat track, whether looking forward or back.
Leave the roller coaster now and come back to reality. Stand up really tall , peer back into history, and imagine how things seemed from the Intuitive Linear View…
1885: No such thing as automobiles or airplanes.
1885: The British Empire will last forever.
1926 1926: No such thing as television or cable.
1926: The stock market will rise forever.
1957: No such thing as communications satellites or the Berlin Wall.
Cuba 1957: The sunny business partnership between Cuba and the USA will prosper forever.
1967: No such thing as desktop computers or cell phones.
Kennedy & King 1967: Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy will be leaders for decades to come.
1974 "It will be years, not in my time, before a woman will become Prime Minister.“ 1974: — Margaret Thatcher
1986: No such thing as the World Wide Web.
1986: The Soviet Union and the Cold War will last forever.
1995 1995: Spam is a luncheon meat.
1995 1995: Terrorism is something bad that happens to someone else .
Graphic Rendition of a Desktop Nanofactory Courtesy of John Burch, Lizard Fire Studios 2005: No such thing as molecular manufacturing.
Current socio-political conditions and structures will last forever. 2005:
The Myth of Perpetuation The idea that nothing really changes… It’s simple to see how wrong this is, but it’s easy to slip into.
As for nanotechnology’s transformative and disruptive impacts, we’re on the roller coaster heading toward the big climb. Progress is occurring every day, taking us closer, even if we don’t notice the gradual incline. Soon, however, the curve will sharpen and take us rapidly into a future for which we may not be prepared.
The Coming Nanotechnology Revolution
Not just new products — a new means of production
Manufacturing systems that make more manufacturing systems — exponential proliferation