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"Isn't there something better than people sinking into being chemically inspired couch potatoes and letting the machines get on with the future?" asked an audience member. Kurzweil responded that there are always dead ends, and new technologies will create new dead ends. But he believes that despite the temptation to become nanotechnological couch potatoes, many humans will continue to expand their horizons.
Asked if he was worried about rising hostility to technology, Kurzweil noted that the luddite movement has always been there, but that it had not appreciably slowed down technological progress. "All of these ethical concerns are focused on biology. You don't see demonstrations against computer technologies," he declared.
Kurzweil may be declaring the "all clear" on nanotech prematurely. After the debate, Leon Fuerth, Al Gore's former national security advisor, led a session to discuss its policy implications. Fuerth quickly punctured Kurzweil's complacent claim that there is no political and ethical controversy over nanotechnology.
"These guys talking here act as though the government is not part of their lives. They may wish it weren't, but it is," said Fuerth. "As we approach the issues they debated here today, they had better believe that those issues will be debated by the whole country. The majority of Americans will not simply sit still while some elite strips off their personalities and uploads themselves into their cyberspace paradise. They will have something to say about that. There will be a vehement debate about that in this country."
Indeed, there are activist groups like the Funders Group on the Emerging Technologies and the ETC Group mobilizing against nanotechnology. Fuerth made it clear that the government will want to meddle in the coming nanotech revolution. The future is bright, either biotech or nanotech, but as always it is imperiled by those who would strangle it in its crib.