Monday, December 18, 2006

Nanotechnology Q&A, Pt I

This blog will cover technologies that by all reasonable estimates will have a huge impact on society; namely nanoscale materials technologies and nanotechnology (AKA molecular manufacturing).

Today I would like to present to you the beginning of an ongoing Q&A, in this case asking prominent members of the nanotech community “If you had the attention of the entire world, what would you say regarding molecular manufacturing?

Christine Peterson What people want most from nanotechnology are dramatic medical, environmental, and energy advances. Today's nanomaterials are starting to make an impact, but for truly revolutionary breakthroughs, we should push for the development of programmable, atomically-precise manufacturing. The Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems, to be published this spring, will point the way.
~Christine Peterson, VP, Foresight Nanotech Institute

K. Eric Drexler Molecular manufacturing has advanced greatly during the last year, both in its technology base and its acceptance as a research objective. DNA engineering techniques can now be used routinely to build 100 nm scale, atomically precise objects with a million atoms, providing a way to organize more complex systems than before. Protein engineering and molecular machine work continues to advance. A National Research Council study has evaluated molecular manufacturing systems as an objective and called for defining and funding a research program: both the evaluation and the call for funding are firsts within the U.S. federal government. Meanwhile, the Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems, led by the Battelle Memorial Institute with participation by researchers from its 5 U.S. National Labs, has garnered widespread support from academia and industry groups. The Roadmap, launched in 2005, is slated for publication in Spring, 2007.
~Dr. K. Eric Drexler, Chief Technical Advisor, Nanorex, Inc.

Patrick Lin It takes a lack of imagination to think that molecular manufacturing (MM) will never become a reality. We are already doing similar work - creating things from the bottom up - with 3-D printers, for instance, so MM is just a logical extension of that idea and nothing so radically new that there should be so much skepticism surrounding it. Further, history has shown that humans are ingenious enough to overcome perceived and technical limitations as daunting as they may seem at the moment - creating things that were thought to be impossible, from flying machines to personal computers to most recently the "invisibility cloak." So it's not so much a question of if MM will happen but when...and this is very difficult timeline to predict.

That said, it's never too early to begin thinking about MM's impact on society, if we want to mitigate any disruptive effects. For instance, if MM enables us to create anything we want, how does that impact local, national, and global economies? How does that affect the distribution of wealth and political power? How can we prevent MM from being misused, e.g., producing weapons of mass destruction? How can we maximize the benefits of MM? Undoutedly, MM will do much good in many areas of life, but with such profound power - as with any power or right - comes new responsibilites. But it still remains to be seen if enough people, and in the right positions of influence, will accept this responsibility and contribute to this debate in time to make a real difference...
~Dr. Patrick Lin, Research Director, The Nanoethics Group

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