Michael Anissimov wrote:
Most of the American public doesn't even know what the word "nanotechnology" means.
This doesn't seem particularly tragic to me, I must say. I think people are likely to know quite well what nanotechnology means when "it" impacts their daily lives at all; that is to say, when and if they need to. You think they need to know it now, no doubt, but I think you are probably quite wrong to think that. I also think you may well be wrong to think you know now what "nanotechnology" will mean then, when and if it does matter to them to know it. That remains to be seen.
In his contribution to the Moot Jonathan Pfeiffer worries:
This last paragraph could be understood (or misunderstood) as a claim against the importance of public education on emerging technologies and their potential or likely impacts.
Now, I think that this misunderstanding is unlikely given the context of the post in which that comment appears: I argued in that post that idealized nonproximate Superlative outcomes are mistaken by Michael as too much "predetermined" in advance when the truth is that technodevelopmental determination is an ongoing, collective, and finally unpredictable, if open, process; that is to say, a matter of politics.
If nanoscale technique inscribes one among many different technodevelopmental paths in two decades' time it could end up meaning something much more like what people think of now when they think of "biotechnology" rather than what people think of now (those few that do) when they think of, say, "Drextech." It may well be that people won't and will never have needed to know what the word "nanotechnology" connoted for a small coterie of tech-enthusiasts. People in general might well end up using words like "medicine" instead, or "sensors," or even "fabbing," maybe -- if another futurological paradigm pans out -- and what they will mean by these things will have come over the years of that development to contain the sense of nanoscale technique.
Notice even the difference between conjuring up "nanoscale technique" -- intervention, manipulation at the nanoscale, open to any number of implementations, paradigms of manufacturing, and levels of eventual control -- as against the conjuring up in the first place of a "nanotechnology" whose characteristics we are prone to delineate in advance, as though scribbling them directly from the book of physics or logic, indifferent to the shaping of developmental outcomes and ongoing distribution by factors that are radically underdetermined by logic or physics and instead always retrospectively narrated in history.
This isn't a claim against the importance of public education: again, some context would obviously rule out such a misunderstanding in a flash -- inasmuch as I regularly champion public education here on the blog, and have, more to the point, literally devoted my life to public education as a teacher!
Rather than a claim against such education it is better to read it as an insistence that educating a properly open, critical, and literate technodevelopmental temper will involve much more than logic and physics. And certainly it should involve sensitivity training to the pseudo-science, self-delusion, reductionism, and hyperbole with which some techno-enthusiasts will try to peddle their own pet Superlative outcomes and impose their pet or elite-incumbent agendas in the name of "foresight."
(To be very clear for any Superlative technocentrics reading this: That scare-quoting of the word "foresight" isn't an expression of skepticism or opposition to the notion of foresight as such so much as it is an expression of skepticism and opposition to huckster hype and tribal indoctrination mistaken or peddled as foresight, which, in my view, functions to derail the actually obviously useful process that foresight is.)
Jonathan's intervention continues: Is it that "the people" or "the American public" needs to be considered as much a source of education as a target for it? What were you thinking here?
Don't scarequote the people or the American public! We really do exist. It's true that we are a plurality rather than a monolithic unanimity invested with some kind of sovereign will -- but that is, after all, just a facile straw man constructed by incumbent and elite interests to denigrate the actually ongoing contestation, deliberation, participation of that popular plurality in the articulation of history which incumbents and elitists would rather control to their particular advantage.
Obviously the people are as much a source as a target for education! The Street finds its own uses for things. Aborning peer production practices are palpably shattering industrial-broadcast prejudices everywhere. The "Unitary Executive" is shitting in his pants and firing off wild shots in a last ditch panic.
Be careful, by the way, what groove your rhetoric is apt to nudge you into if you aren't vigilant: the people "considering" the people are themselves among the people, and so your example isn't in any measure properly a matter of elite technocrats assuming a vantage from which to consult, say, now the Book of the Universe's Law with their logical asocial independent brains, and now, with the same asocial indifference, the news arriving from ground level from the clamoring multitude, and on the basis of such consultations make the calculation that will enable them to implement some Superlative eidos into a technodevelopmental outcome.
Technodevelopmental determination is itself actively and interminably ongoing and collective, not reductively logical nor teleological, nor implemented unilaterally from above. That is the key thing to be understood here. Education, expertise, foresight, organizing are tiles in a technodevelopmental mosaic, but none of that trumps the actual collectivity of ongoing technodevelopmental determination and open futurity.