Sorry to come to this late, but since my name has been mentioned maybe it's still worth my clarifying a few things. My engagement with enthusiasts for Drexlerian nanotech began somewhere around 2003-4. I'd begun developing the critique which took shape in my book Soft Machines (which is in essence an refutation of arguments from biology to justify Drexlerian, "Nanosystems" style nanotechnology, of the kind that Martin cites above) in the late 90's, with a couple of low profile publications. As this engagement went on, at a technical level, I became more and more puzzled by some odd features of the spokesmen for Drexler -- the strength of their will to believe in the face of sceptical arguments from mainstream nanoscience, the fact that belief in "Drextech" didn't come alone, but that it formed part of what an anthropologist might call a "belief package", together with a strong conviction that radical life extension would soon be possible, that we'd soon have superhuman artificial intelligence, and that this would lead to a "singularity". It also struck me as odd, in a time when nanoscience was truly global, that these people seemed to have a background that was rather culturally, ideologically and geographically specific. In this context I found Dale's analysis and critique extremely helpful and revealing. As I've written before, I've grown to realise that the technical issues that I'm qualified to write about aren't really at the heart of this business, and that Dale's perspective from rhetoric and cultural studies is really valuable.
On the matter of tone, there's certainly a difference in personal style in the way Dale and I conduct our critiques. I don't choose to express myself the way Dale does; but this doesn't mean I don't enjoy his writing or think he's not correct in many essentials. My natural tone tends to (sometimes ironic) detachment, but this also doesn't mean I don't sometimes envy Dale for his passion and engagement.
Over at Michael Anissimov's Blog, another varation on this conversation has been ongoing. To my repeated charges that superlative claims amount to faith-based initiatives, and altogether fail to pass muster as scientific (all the while Robot Cults sputter about what incomparable indispensable champions of science they are, battling menacing effete relativists in the humanities like yours truly), Michael dismissively replied, from his planet:
Many scientists are becoming convinced that this stuff [the technodevelopmental "accomplishment" of superintelligence, superlongevity, superabundance] is a big deal.
To this I responded, roughly (I've expanded and clarified my point a bit now that I'm on my own real estate, follow the link for the exact words):
I regard this utterance as the most flabbergasting imaginable nonsense. “Many” as compared to how overabundantly many who don’t?
Do you want to get into citation indexes, Michael? To the extent that citations are mounting a bit (they had nowhere to go but up, after all), how many citations outside a small circle that keep citing each other do these citers garner themselves? How often do these citations occur outside the in-group as throwaways in intros and conclusions — connected to statements roughly to the effect of, “some nutters go so far as to say superlative blah blah utility fog blah blah mind uploading, cite Moravek, cite Kurzweil, etc, whereas in this paper I stick to rather more conventional assumptions and modest expectations?" That is to say, how often do these citations amount to little more than logrolling among superlative futurologists themselves or function as extremities against which more mainstream scientists and policymakers situate themselves as more mainstream?
The whole point of the archipelago of Robot Cult think tanks like IEET and ImmInst and Singularity U and WTA (er, I mean, Humanity Plus!) as far as I can see is to cough up a hairball of apparent respectability for these superlative formulations for media outlets to hook onto, to help your membership organizations get more bottoms into the pews and more eyeballs onto the webpages, what you call “getting out the message,” very much in the way neocons whomp up faux respectability for their scams via Heritage and AEI.
Richard Jones appeared in the midst of that conversation as well, with this enormously helpful comment:
I can perhaps amplify Dale’s comments above. The paper “A Design for a Primitive Nanofactory” [this paper was cited by Michael as evidence that superlativity was not as marginal as I claim it to be] was published in a transhumanist journal which is not indexed by the major scientific databases. According to “Web of Science”, which tracks citations in the mainstream science journals that are in its database, the paper has been cited three times since 2003, by two papers authored by Phoenix himself and another by Drexler and Allis.
Plenty of mainstream scientists are excited by the many possibilities that our increasing control of matter on the nanoscale open up, many of them are developing increasingly sophisticated nanoscale machines and devices. But very few of them, in my experience, give any credence to the superlative claims of “nanofactories” and “superabundance”. “Superlative discourse”, as Dale calls it, pollutes the discussions we should be having about the many potential or possible impacts of developing technoscience; instead talking, as AnneC says, in terms of Utter Certainty about particular (ideologically favoured) outcomes on well-defined timescales that to mainstream science seem fantastic.