Continuing Molecular Nanotechnology Debate and Funding Issue

J Storrs Hall summarizes the Wall Street Journal article by Keiper (already presented here) and one of the articles by Eric Drexler

Dexter Johnson, IEEE Spectrum discusses those first two articles by Keiper and Drexler.

However, are we really to believe that the lack of real experimental science into the feasibility of MNT (molecular nanotechnology) is due to a lack of funding? Key to both Keiper and Drexler’s arguments is that in the National Research Council’s (NRC) 2006 review of the NNI (National Nanotechnology Initiative) there are recommendations for conducting research into the feasibility of molecular manufacturing.

How much systematic funding is there to achieve major breakthroughs in technological fields ? I would argue that there is an overall massive under investment in potential breakthroughs in technology of all kinds.

In financial investment portfolio management, sophisticated investors have 5-10% of their money in potential high return instruments. A portion in options, futures and collectibles and startup companies helps to increase the return and lower the risk of the overall portfolio. Basics of risk and return for portfolio management of investments. This risk and return portfolio management should be applied to investing in research and development.

In the area of Energy, most of the energy subsidy money goes to incremental development of oil, coal and natural gas. There is comparatively less money but still large sums for light water nuclear power, wind power and solar power.

From a new Management Information Service analysis of US energy funding of all kinds from 1950-2006

Europe launched a campaign to triple funding for energy research to 8 billion euros ($11.7 billion) a year in a technology race with Japan and the United States

Solar power should get 16 billion euros over the next decade and up to 30 energy-sipping “Smart Cities” should be built with the backing of around 11 billion euros. Wind energy research should get 6 billion euros over the next decade, nuclear research should get 7 billion euros and energy from biomass and other waste 9 billion. There should also be 13 billion euros for innovative “carbon capture and storage” technology to trap carbon dioxide from power stations and bury it underground.

There is some funding for different kinds of nuclear fission. There is some funding for breakthrough wind (kite powered wind) but it is about 1% or less of the overall wind research.

Only recently has there been an increase funding for non-Tokomak nuclear fusion efforts, where there is a project and central goal focus. There was funding on non-tokomak nuclear fusion previously but at a minimal level (Less than $30 million/year overall before and now about $70 million/year). The main thing is that the extra $40 million/year is going to projects with aggressive goals and high potential technology.

$257 billion is spent each year on space related technology and systems (and ground facilities and projects labelled as space. Nasa’s budget is mostly for buildings and people on the ground in different states).

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How much of that money was spent on breakthrough propulsion ? Chemical engines are not sufficient to enable breakthroughs in opening up the solar system. Yet, very little money or any organized effort is spent to change this situation.

The public is interested in the vision of breakthroughs in space capabilities. Yet there is very little research and development to make it happen.

Richard Jones comments on the discussion

Perhaps for the first time in recent years a major new technology is largely being developed outside the USA, in Europe to some extent, but with an unprecedented leading role being taken in places like China, Korea and Japan. In these places the “nanotech schism” that seems so important in the USA simply isn’t relevant; people are just pressing on to where the technology leads them.

J Storrs Hall comments on Richard Jones statement.

This is a key observation. Jones slants it as if to say that therefore, the “schism” wasn’t really important after all. But to come away with that impression would be to miss a very important point: The USA is blowing its opportunity to be a leader in one of the most important technologies of the 21st century because of the political shenanigans.