In this issue NanoNews-Now Editor Rocky Rawstern and contributing writers Judith Light Feather and Pearl Chin
cover nanotechnology education. We also surveyed several leading
academic institutions to see how nanotechnology has changed their
programs, and spoke with several other experts in their fields.
Interviews with Educators
By Rocky Rawstern - Editor Nanotechnology Now, NanoNews-Now, and NanoNews-Digest
In a series of interviews,
designed to gauge the changes happening in response to the need for
more qualified "nanotechnologists," NanoNews-Now Editor Rocky Rawstern asked the following three questions to representatives of leading universities:
1. In the past few years, what changes have you seen at the [your
university] regarding courses in nanoscale sciences? To what do you
attribute these changes?
2. Regarding the need for a growing number of graduates who
understand nanoscale science: over the next few years what changes do
you expect to see at academic institutions world-wide?
3. What are some of the positions your "nanotech" students can look forward to in the job market after graduation?
Wanting to get a different take on the education issue, I interviewed Robin D. Hanson, Assistant Professor of Economics, George Mason University.
Given his background (1), I thought it appropriate to ask him to address a couple questions:
1. In your opinion, and in regards to advanced technology, how much
should the general public participate in the debate over whether or not
to implement a given technology?
That's a really tough question. In principle a rational public
should attend to a few issues, but then delegate most others to their
representatives. The question then would be whether this issue is
important enough for the public to address directly.
However, for an irrational public it may well be better for them to
remain ignorant of the technology until it is nearly ready to be
deployed. It seems that for real publics, discussions of future
technologies are often highjacked to become places where extremists
have symbolic discussions about how much we care about each other, or
the future, or nature, etc. The political mainstream tolerates this
because they typically don't really believe the future technology will
appear or make much difference.
2. What do you see as the major issues we as a society face in regards
to advanced technology? Are we adequately addressing those issues? If
not, what must we do?
The biggest issues are whether "radical" nanotech will be
possible, and if so whether we should subsidize research into that
area. Unfortunately, what has happened is that the mainstream powers
have decided to declare that the radical scenarios (e.g., "nanobots")
are impossible, in order to avoid possible public opposition such as
biotech has suffered. Each person gives a different description of what
these radical scenarios are, and a different reason why they are
impossible. The only common element is that they are whatever it is
that ordinary people are afraid of.
3. What would you consider the best and greatest use of
advanced technology, and what needs to be done to ensure that with it
we don't create a divide between the "haves" and "have-nots?"
As an economist I have to give the standard economist answer -
we should and do use tech to give people more of the things they want.
Social inequality is largely independent of specific technologies, and
if you want to reduce inequality the answer is simple - take money from
the rich and give it to the poor.
(1) "I have a social science Ph.D. from Caltech, and a physics M.S. and
philosophy M.A. from the University of Chicago. I have been thinking
about nanotechnology since 1985, when I read a draft of Eric Drexler's
first book, and have specialized somewhat in economic analysis of
future technologies." In December of 2003, he published "Five Nanotech
Social Scenarios" See also Five Nanotech Social Scenarios