« Going Live with Movable Type | Main | Danger's Restrictive SDK »

The Economist on Nanotechnology

The Economist has a story in the current issue on the state of nanotechnology. The story describes key obstacles towards the mass commercialization of nanotechnology:

[T]here are two big obstacles to overcome. The first is coming up with an interface between living entities and electronic devices -- ie, between carbon and silicon. It does no good to have a fuel cell made of carbon nanotubes if it cannot communicate when it is about to run out of fuel. While scientists at IBM, Hewlett-Packard and elsewhere race to release their latest atomic transistor or nanostorage device, they have yet to work out how to integrate such components. At Hewlett-Packard, Stan Williams and Phil Kuekes recall hearing as boys that soon even toasters would run on nuclear power. Despite such false dawns, they still think nanotechnology will be everywhere within 20 years. But until the integration issue is solved, nanocomputing will be as likely as nuclear-powered kitchen appliances.

Solving the integration issue will create another problem: how, in fact, to design and build nanodevices. The unpredictable behaviour of nanoscale objects means that engineers will not know how to make nanomachines until they actually start building them. Such a conundrum could take years to solve -- and even then, it will be by trial and error and a lot of luck.

But the story ends on what is, by Economist standards, a remarkably upbeat note:

In time, nanotechnology could, indeed, change all of materials science, all of computing and much of biology. A transformation of that scope could generate serious concerns over nano-ethics. It is unlikely, though, that anything would cause the nanotechnology baton to drop. We are watching a classic technological revolution unfold.
The article also contains an interesting graph:
Taking the graph at face value, by one measure at least, nanotechnology's hype surpassed its research in 1996, but as of late last year, research has once again taken the lead. If true, this is excellent news.


TrackBack URL for this entry:

Post a comment