Nanotechnology is not a future science; it is a current assembly of different disciplines working to change how we live. The term nanotechnology itself is still not defined in any one way. The word and the science diverts in two different directions, according to who is speaking.
The smallness of nanotechnology is a concept and reality difficult to grasp. The word nanos is Greek, meaning dwarf or something very small. The meaning has shifted however to mean one-billionth, as milli means one-thousandth and micro means one-millionth. For example, if a nanometer could be magnified to appear as long as a person’s nose, a red blood cell would be as tall as the Empire State Building, a human hair perhaps three miles across and a finger could span the length of the US.
Constructing anything at that scale is seen as important as the industrial revolution and the revolution of computer technology. However, the consequences of nanotechnology is not being appreciated by lawmakers, scientists who do not work in the field, laymen and other scientists who hold conflicting views about the ability to construct anything at that small of a scale.
Nanotechnology has been labeled a kind of general-purpose technology, something that is capable of, in its advanced form, of having a major impact on every industry there is and all of society as a whole. Using a segment of this technology, it will be able to construct better built, cleaner, safer, longer lasting and smarter products for communications, transportation, farming and medicine to name a few.
Think of a medical tool traveling through a human that seeks out and destroys clusters of cancerous cells, or a box no bigger than a sugar cube that contains everything in the Library of Congress. That is the scale and scope of nanotechnology. Being a general-purpose technology, it will offer efficiency not even imagined now. Nanotechnology may assemble future machines, products or even food in completely new patterns.
As a dual-use technology, it has commercial and military uses, and it can be used to construct powerful weapons and other tools. On one hand, nanotechnology offers to make life better and easier, but it comes with great risks. We are not sure what the consequences are or how devastating, depending upon the uses, nanotechnology may be for humanity.
In a broad sense, two ways of altering the world may occur soon. The first way is already taking place, though it is relatively benign. For example, cosmetics companies, through the use of nanotechnology, are applying substances to their products to enhance a glow on the skin and brighter colors in the rouge. Another example, is applying what can basically be called chemical engineering on a nano scale, by applying new stain repellents to clothing, or anti-reflective glass in sunglasses and improving our lives in the process.
These improvements for society seem tame in comparison to what may begin to happen when a breakthrough of assembling occurs. Molecular manufacturing is the building of non-living products with molecule-sized particles built as machines to manufacture anything. The first step, in this process, is to produce what is known as an assembler. This nano particle machine would have the capability to put atoms in any reasonable arrangement required.
This means we could build anything that does not violate the laws of nature. To make a product large enough for use, it would take millions and millions of assemblers. This means assemblers need to make an exact copy of themselves, and then exponential growth would occur.
In this future, molecular manufacturing can build or actually grow an airplane. Combining the correct substances, a kind of fuel for the replicating assemblers, and raw material, a plane could be built as seamlessly as a leaf, or a diamond, quite possibly with little or no human intervention.
The implications of this type of manufacturing are staggering. Anything not violating the laws of nature could become a reality. Changing a body into any shape, someone fancies such as, the Hulk or a new Marilyn Monroe, is a distinct possibility. As of right now, the first stepping-stone to this process has not been accomplished. No one has been able to work out how to make assemblers, the molecular machine capable of beginning the process and constructing something. When that occurs, nanotechnology will assemble the future and change the world in a way never imagined.
Opinion By Andy Towle