A whole lot of words begin with the nano prefix, so many that it can easily cause confusion. Let's take a look at a few of them, and try to follow an orderly approach.
PRESENT DAY WORK
CRN often reiterates that almost all the work being done today under the name of "nanotechnology" is not nanotechnology in the original meaning of the word. To maintain the distinction, we usually refer to this broad and diverse field of work as nanoscale technologies.
When you read stories or hear reports about nanoparticles, nanotubes, and other nanomaterials, that type of research and development is what we call nanoscale technologies. This is important work and valuable work, but in many cases, it is not fundamentally different from what has been done before. Societal impacts of this work may be significant, but they almost all will be incremental impacts-- not transformative -- and can be dealt with using existing systems, institutions, and solutions.
Nanomanufacturing is a term for present-day attempts at building more intricate nanostructures (though not necessarily using molecular bonds or molecular precision). This reflects the realization that it's not enough simply to make small stuff like nanotubes or nanoparticles -- to be really useful, the stuff has to be intricate (information-rich), and this requires more than bulk processes (including pure self-assembly).
Whether through top-down (machining), bottom-up (mechanosynthesis), or bio-mimicry (chemical self-assembly), the next logical step is to merge various nano-components to make nanodevices. To be precise, some nanodevices are starting to be developed today, including active things like transistors and molecular actuators.
Nano-manufactured parts will then be further combined to create nanomachines that can perform meaningful tasks. Nanotechnology's first widely available general-purpose appliance probably will be a nanofactory. Unlike today's nanoscale technologies, the impact of nanofactories will be transformative -- probably disruptive -- and may require the implementation of new systems, institutions, and solutions to avoid the worst dangers.
Free-roaming nanobots and nanoassemblers almost certainly will come after nanofactories, for the simple reason that they will be harder to design, build and control, more intricate, and more expensive. But uses for these devices will be so valuable -- in nanomedicine, for example -- that they eventually will be developed.