February 25, 2009

NANOTECHNOLOGY UPDATE: J. STORRS HALL on the audacity of nano-hope.

A century ago, there was no air travel. The Wright brothers were in the process of demonstrating their Flyer to a still largely unbelieving world. Like nanotechnology, aviation had its biological proof-of-principle — birds — but the scientific establishment firmly rejected its possibility.

25 years later, aviation had become a military reality but, economically, had stubbornly remained a fringe or money-losing proposition. The counsels of despair would have said to forget this dream — times are bad. Face the grim reality.

Instead, Douglass Aircraft, in the depths of the Great Depression, invested in the development of the DC3, the plane that turned air travel into an economically viable proposition. This, of course, was engineering — but aeronautical engineering was at that time steeped in the culture of the dream of air travel as promulgated by the futurists.

When times are bad, people need futurists more than at other times. Bad economic times come because people have been walking in the dark, in lockstep, and hit a wall. There is a surfeit of people whose efforts the current state of knowledge cannot organize productively. The job of a futurist is to turn on the lights, to show what paths could actually lead to prosperity.

Read the whole thing.

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