In my discussions with people and in recent presentations, I've been saying that when we look back, 2005 will be seen as a pivotal year in the development of advanced nanotechnology -- the capability for precise, general-purpose, exponential manufacturing. This expectation is based on conversations with influential leaders who acknowledge that high-level views toward this radical technology are gradually changing from outright dismissal to cautious consideration.
At the ICS/UNIDO Expert Group Meeting on nanotechnology in which I participated (and will provide a fuller report in a day or two), several people pointed out to me that what they are now hearing said is not that molecular manufacturing is impossible, but that it is at least 30 to 50 years away. That's a big shift in perspective.
During the workshop’s final minutes, Eric Drexler made closing remarks arguing that "at this point, there is a large weight of evidence -- detailed quantitative analysis -- indicating that large-scale molecular manufacturing is feasible." More noteworthy than Drexler's remark was the response to it from Clayton Teague, head of the National Nanotechnology Coordination Office: "I agree with you very much, and I think you'll find everyone on the NNI thinks that it is something of international importance."
Most of the day was characterized by similar attitudes of agreement and agreeableness, with a few supporters of molecular manufacturing expressing their considerable surprise at the committee’s "open-mindedness." Although most of the committee's work is done behind closed doors and no tapes or transcripts of this workshop will be made available to the public, the plain fact is that no recording could capture the full atmosphere of the three-day workshop, in which some of the most important work happened off-the-record, in the conversations over meals and during breaks between panels. There were indications of conciliation and comity, and there seemed to be new avenues of communication and cooperation, between representatives of the government, nano-commerce, and the molecular manufacturing community.