Vision assessment in molecular machines

The past 10 years has seen an explosion of interest for the area of science and technology labelled “nanotechnology.” Although at an early stage, nanotechnology is providing a space for the creation of new alliances and the forging of new ties in many actor arenas, initiated based on promises and high expectations of the fruits that could be harvested from development and investment into nanotechnology. Those trying to characterise the dynamics of emerging ties and networks within this field are faced with a number of complexities which are characteristic of the nanotechnology umbrella term, which covers many technologies, various mixes of disciplines and actors, and ongoing debates about definitions of fields and terminology. In this paper we explore an approach for capturing dynamics of emergence of a particular area of nanotechnology by investigating visions of possible futures in relation to molecular mechanical systems (molecular machines). The focus of this text is to outline an approach used to map and analyse visions in an emerging field by taking as the unit of analysis linkages made in statements in texts, and the agglomeration of linkages around certain nodes. Taking the linkage, rather than node, allows one to probe deeper into the dynamics of emergence at early stages when definitions and meanings of certain words/nodes are in flux and patterns of their use change dramatically over short periods of time. As part of a larger project on single and macromolecular machines we explore the dynamics of visions in the field of molecular machines with the eventual aim to elucidate the shaping strength of visions within nanotechnology.

The past 10 years has seen an explosion of interest for the area of science and technology labelled “nanotechnology.” Already at an early stage, promises have led to high expectations of the fruits that could be harvested from the development and investment into nanotechnology. Various technological fields are emerging beneath the umbrella term, some are extensions of what was already happening (cf. CMOS progressing along the ITRS roadmap towards the nanoscale) but in many cases new networks are forming based around expectations and promises of altogether new technologies made possible by manipulation at the nanoscale. Besides providing space for interaction between various technological fields the ‘nanohype’ offers opportunities for further development of nanotechnology through government programmes and financial investments mobilised through utopian visions and high expectations. The far-reaching impacts of nanotechnology touted by both proponents and opponents of the emerging field calls for a need to assess possible directions for the field of nanotechnology with a focus on governance of the co-evolution of nanoscience, nanotechnology and society (RENN & ROCO, 2006). For effective steering a deeper understanding of the characteristics of this emerging field is needed in order to develop a robust map for an emerging situation, but also as part of the ongoing assessments which need to be evaluated based on dynamics of path emergence. Mapping dynamics of nanotechnology is complex. First of all, the ambiguity in nanotechnology’s ontology provides opportunities for relabbelling of a variety of technologies as nanotechnology. Secondly, within the field of nanotechnology terms such as nanomedicine, nanoelectronics, bionanotechnology etc. have different meanings and different usages depending on the context and actor using them. Nanotechnologies cover many industry chains, many sectors and many research disciplines which become even more complex at the nexus of convergence of these chains sectors and disciplines. As apart of a larger programme on technology assessment (TA NanoNed) we are interested analysing indicators of emerging structures within the field of nanotechnology, and develop ways of using such knowledge to improve governance processes. As a first step, we investigate a particularly interesting field of nanotechnology, that of molecular machines. This field has been linked to the discussions on nanotechnology since the famous lecture of Richard Feynmann (FEYNMANN, 1959) and the now infamous book of Eric Drexler Engines of Creation (DREXLER, 1986). The field of molecular machines is also an interesting case due to the very early stages of the field, the different (often separate) research communities investigating and discussing possibilities of molecular machines.

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