Why can't we drill holes, cut things, solder things, stamp things out, mold different shapes, all at an infitesimal level? What are the possibilities of small but movable machines? They surely would be fun to make…
Building powerfully advanced products quickly, easily, cheaply, and in huge numbers — that's the disruptive impact of molecular manufacturing. When a new technology has the potential to radically transform national and global economies, geopolitical relations, and even human social structures, we'd better learn as much about it as we can.
A critically important question to answer is who. Which nation, group, corporation, or consortium is most likely to achieve the "holy grail" of nanotechnology first?
That's the abstract of CRN's latest column for the popular Nanotechnology Now web portal. We hope you'll read all our columns, offer feedback, and tell others about them too.
The popular idea of so-called nanobots, powerful and at risk of running wild, is not part of modern plans for building things “atom-by-atom” by molecular manufacturing. Studies indicate that most people don't know the difference between molecular manufacturing, nanoscale technology, and nanobots. Confusion about terms, fueled by science fiction, has distorted the truth about advanced nanotechnology. Nanobots are not needed for manufacturing, but continued misunderstanding may hinder research into highly beneficial technologies and discussion of the real dangers.
This was in response to some of the scare stories that circulate periodically. However, in that same briefing document, we also said:
In the long term, some products of molecular manufacturing systems could be nanobots (e.g., for medical use), but these are not envisioned to be metabolizing or self-replicating (at least not by credible researchers).
Already, nanotechnology researchers are working toward the creation of tiny medical devices that some are calling nano-robots. These earliest implements will not be built by mechanosynthesis and may not be atomically precise, and so we should not view them as examples of molecular manufacturing. They likely will be very expensive to produce and limited in their ability. Nevertheless, the concept is paving the way for people to understand the potential value of nanomedicine.
In a dire warning to the Rudd Government, Ross Garnaut has declared that existing targets for cuts in greenhouse emissions may be too modest and too late to halt environmentally damaging rises in temperature.
On the eve of the release today of his interim report on climate change, Professor Garnaut told a conference in Adelaide yesterday that without intervention before 2020, it would be impossible to avoid a high risk of dangerous climate change. "The show will be over," he said. . .
Ominously, Garnaut said major reports of recent years, including the UN Intergovernmental Panel assessments and the Stern report, had used scenarios that were already out of date.
Recent rises in global temperatures, he said, were at the upper end of what was predicted in 2001. "The rate of change is at the bad end of what was identified as the range of possibilities," he told reporters.
Why is the situation getting so dangerous so quickly?
The largest reason for the worsening scenario was the high growth of the world economy, in particular China.
The growth rate in the world's carbon dioxide emissions had trebled between 2000 and 2006.
"Scenarios, which show rapid future emissions growth, which were once considered extreme now seem realistic or moderate," Garnaut said.
We're running into a situation here where the acceptable political action is to move from A to C, but where realism demands that -- if we want to dodge a catastrophic collision with ecological reality -- we move from A to say Q. And that gap, between C and Q, is large enough to lose a future in.
While CRN's Jamais Cascio, on his Open the Future blog, helpfully puts climate change and its implications into perspective with other global issues as part of a "Big Picture" series:
Thermal Inertia. Get used to that term, as it drives the relationship between climate disruption and human civilization, now and over the next twenty years. Its meaning is simple: even if we were to stop all greenhouse gas emissions immediately, right this very second, we'd still see continued warming and disruption for the next two or three decades. Changes to ocean temperatures (in particular) lag climate forcings, committing us to at least a bit more warming, probably about half a degree celsius, bringing us close to the hottest we've been in a million years. Unfortunately, we're not stopping right this second; we probably won't stop increasing our carbon output for another decade, at best. This means that our climate will still be warming well into the 2030s, no matter what.
Political leaders pay little more than lip service to dealing with climate disruption (most visibly in the U.S., but few Kyoto signatory nations have actually met their required targets). As the signs of climate chaos mount, however, we'll start to see climate taking on greater prominence in public and political discourse, often eclipsing other big issues. If global warming was the sole big driver for the next twenty years, I'd pessimistically assume that we wouldn't see real action until the first big impacts start to appear. The interaction of the climate change driver with other drivers, however, may accelerate that timeline.
It's increasingly clear that climate chaos will be the big story of the next two or three decades, and maybe the whole century, unless, as Jamais suggests, some form of "catalytic innovation" such as molecular manufacturing or artificial general intelligence is achieved. Even then, an early and major focus for any revolutionary new technology will be to mitigate the destructive impacts of climate change.
China aims to leapfrog the United States in technological development with substantial investment in nanotechnology, but whether those efforts will actually pay off is still unclear. That was the message from University of California at Santa Barbara researchers presenting their findings on the state of Chinese nanotechnology at the AAAS annual meeting.
Richard Applebaum and Rachel Parker from the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at UCSB conducted about sixty interviews with Chinese officials to piece together a picture of the current state of Chinese nanotechnology. Applebaum set the specific research effort within the context of China's stated overarching goal to "leapfrog" the West by using a combination of learning from the West (i.e. technology transfer) and increasing domestic research capacity ("indigenous innovation" or zizhu chuangxin).
Nanotechnology research is one of four Chinese "Science Megaprojects" that have the central purpose of catching the country up to US research by 2020. Still, for all the big talk, the actual government investment is not overwhelming. The researchers estimated that the Chinese government only invested $400 million from 2002 to 2007, although that investment is expected to rise considerably.
This interesting story is from the Wired blog network. Although there is no specific mention of molecular manufacturing, we think it likely that China has at least considered devoting some research funding to it, and may in fact already be ahead of the U.S. in that respect.
We've just posted to our main website an excellent long conversation with leading nanotech researcher Robert A. Freitas Jr., conducted by Sander Olson in October 2005. This is another one of his interview pieces we've been adding to our site.
Olsen was one of the original developers of the NanoApex and NanoMagazine web sites. Since the acquisition of those sites in 2005 by the International Small Technology Network, many of Sander's interviews have not been available on the web. We're proud to host them for him.
You can see the entire collection of currently available interviews here. We expect to have several more posted by the end of this week. Enjoy!
There's a new brochure [PDF] you can download, and additional speakers have been added.
SciVestor Disruptive Technologies Conference
55 Broad Street, New York, NY
May 22, 2008 - 8:30 am to 5:30 pm
$495 per person until March 15
By some estimates the very nature of mankind will change radically in the coming years, transformed by the accelerating pace of technology change. These empowering technologies -- Artificial Intelligence, Nanotechnology, Robotics, Virtual Reality, and Human Enhancement -- will soon become major disruptors to today's profitable business models.
The SciVestor Summit on Disruptive Technologies represents the single most relevant gathering of thought leaders, businesses and investors focused on monetizing this opportunity.
The intensive day‐long event will offer tangible insight for both the investment and business communities.
I'm giving a talk on the topic of "Disruptive Abundance: Economic Implications of Advanced Nanotechnology." CRN's Director of Impacts Analysis, Jamais Cascio, also will be speaking, along with David Rose, founder of Ambient Devices, Adam Bly, editor-in-chief of Seed magazine, Dr. Eric Braverman, author of Younger You: Breaking the Aging Code, and others.
If you're planning to attend, be sure to register before March 15th to save $100. We'll see you there!