Future Tense

Professor Injured by Anti-Nanotechnology Letter Bomb

The ivory tower is not always a safe space.

A professor was “slightly burned” when he opened a letter bomb last week. The letter had been addressed to a professor at Mexico’s Pachuca Polytechnic University who researches nanotechnology; after he realized it was suspiciously heavy, he passed it along to a security committee.

This is the third anti-nanotech-related violence in Mexico this year. Over the summer, a group (or maybe just one person masquerading as part of a larger movement) sent bombs to two Mexican institutions engaged in nanotechnology research. According to its manifesto, the group responsible for the two incidents, “Individuals Tending Toward Savagery,” is dedicated to stopping nanotechnology, which it fears will destroy the planet. As of yet, there is no definitive link between the latest incident and the summer bombs.

Recently, Future Tense hosted an event about humans’ long-standing fear of the future—and, in particular, fear of new technology. Like rail travel and the telephone, nanotechnology has been a particular focus of technology terror, with special emphasis on the apocalyptic scenario of the gray goo. This hypothesis involves self-replicating nanobots spiraling out of control, covering everything on the planet with a layer of gray goo.

Individuals Tending Toward Savagery and some more mainstream anti-nanotech activists would have all research into the discipline cease. Yet as futurist Ray Kurzweil told Arizona State’s Joel Garreau in Garreau’s 2005 book Radical Evolution, “How unrealistic that is. Nanotechnology is not just one thing or three things. It is really the end result of miniaturization, which is pervading all of technology. Most technology will be nanotechnology in the 2020s. You would have to relinquish all of technology.”

One irony about the nanotechnology bombs: Researchers currently are investigating ways to use nanotechnology to sniff out explosive devices.

Read more on the Chronicle of Higher Education.