As the first United States Department of Commerce Technology Administration Fellow of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) in 1991-1992, I attended a Foresight Institute conference in Palo Alto, California, and wrote a summary report on nanotechnology for my colleagues at DoC, passing on a requested copy to an interested contact at the CIA.
This was the first official DoC document regarding molecular nanotechnology, and an early introduction of it to the Central Intelligence Agency. Prior to this time, the fields of nanotechnology and of micromachine technology (MEMS) had not been seriously considered as candidates for the biennial "Critical Technologies" lists then being compiled by the Department of Commerce. Critical technologies were defined as those that would be of national importance within ten years. (A little over ten years has now passed, and nanotech and MEMS in its their manifestations are indeed becoming critical.)
Subsequently in 1992-93 I was appointed as ASME White House Fellow assigned to the Office of Science and Technology Policy (OSTP), also known as the White House Science Office.
In that capacity, I was the first to introduce nanotechnology to White House staff and to other interested agencies, by arranging for Dr. K. Eric Drexler of the Foresight Institute to visit and brief a small group of us in late 1992, after his scheduled testimony to Senator Al Gore's Senate science committee.
In April 1993, in the White House publication "The President's Report to Congress on Science and Technology," I authored the chapter entitled "Manufacturing: The New Competition," and in a few paragraphs there gave the first White House endorsement of molecular nanotechnology. I wrote this section primarily in hopes that future nanotechnology researchers would have an official government document to rely upon when requesting grants and programs. At the time nanotech concepts did not exist in the consciousness of most policy makers in Washington, D.C., and was generally considered as "science-fictional"by the technology policy appointees with whom I discussed it.
In 1993 I organized and chaired the first Nanotechnology session for the Winter Annual Meeting of the ASME in New Orleans in December of that year. My article "Nanotech and Nanominds," on the political beginnings of nanotechnology at the White House and elsewhere in Washington, D.C., was published in paperback in the anthology NANODREAMS, Baen Books, July 1995, edited by Elton Elliott.
As a Registered Professional Engineer with a Doctorate in Mechanical Engineering, I would like to state my opinion that much, if not all, of the hysteria concerning molecular nanotechnology is misplaced and misrepresented. Some of the nanotech anxiety comes from the vision of germ-sized nanobots doing what virulent bacteria do -- attacking human bodies from the inside. As a former design engineer I maintain that this approach is as irrational as fearing a self-propelled Abrams military tank just because it is the same size as a wild elephant. Without human operators, the tank is just metal and electronics.
To the contrary, medical nanobots may bring about incredible advances in healing and protecting the human body, and they will be no closer to being biological organisms than the molecules of aspirin that one may ingest.
As a published science fiction author, I am quick to realize that such visions of nano-horrors can be useful as technical warnings, and can constitute good stories. I have written several myself. However, cautionary nanotech tales have been in print for about twenty years now, and the morbid ones are no more likely to become true than did any of the many earlier science fiction stories about intelligent computers running amok and enslaving or destroying mankind. Machines are machines, whether made of visible or invisible piece-parts, and they will only perform -- at best! -- the functions for which they were designed.
Nanotech machines and processes promise revolutionary leaps in design and manufacturing and medical technologies, and offer the potential of a near future in which even the poorest people of the world have access to health, housing, education and communication the equal of Western Europe or North America.
If there are nanotech weapons in our future, they will come about only by design. They will no more be accidental than a Harrier jump jet.
Dr. Arlan Andrews, Sr. P.E.
White House Science Office Fellow, 1992-1993
Dept. of Commerce Technology Administration Fellow, 1991-1992
AT&T Bell Labs, 1964-1989
Sandia National Laboratories, 1989-1996
Senior Fellow, Foresight Institute, 1994 - Present
Co-Founder, Muse Technologies, Inc., 1996
Co-Founder, Kinetic Biosystems, Inc., 1997
Member, Science Fiction Writers of America, 1980 - Present