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Rise of the Nanobots 178

Posted by Hemos
from the this-is-a-gimmie dept.
splinter writes "How nanotechnology will change the world is an article predicting that, as in the last turn of the century, an industrial revolution is coming soon - only this time we will see molecular nanotechnology rather than automobiles. " Mmmm...nanites. Beautiful, beautiful [nanites].
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Rise of the Nanobots

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  • Is this yet another example of ST leading the way in technology or what?
  • by rde (17364) on Thursday October 21, 1999 @07:29AM (#1596639)
    how 1) you can read a story that says 'this will change the world' and you think to yourself that he hasn't really grasped all the implications,
    and 2) that star trek's enduring legacy to earth culture will be the word 'nanites'?
  • Whoo Hoo. Nanos woupld be the coolest
  • by bgarcia (33222) on Thursday October 21, 1999 @07:33AM (#1596641) Homepage Journal
    Now here's a use for nanites that every geek would love.

    Don't you hate having to stop programming and web-surfing to do those mundane chores like showering, blowing your nose, etc.? Wouldn't it be great to have nanites invading every part of your body, taking care of all the drudgery for you?

    That's what I really want. Nanites up my nose. I'm sick of having to keep a box of Facial Tissues handy at all times.

    99 little bugs in the code, 99 bugs in the code,
    fix one bug, compile it again...

  • Diamond Age anyone?
  • by samael (12612) <Andrew@Ducker.org.uk> on Thursday October 21, 1999 @07:34AM (#1596643) Homepage
    Yet again, an article in which people talk about the wonderful (and terrible) things that nanotechnology has in store for us. These people don't seem to have any idea about the massive scale we're looking at here.

    I don't want to be a killjoy, but we're still taking the very, very first few step. The equivalent of looking at Hero's engine and talking about spaceships.

    Nanotech will be very very useful for certain things, but I suspect it will be a niche product for a long time, happily taking one very simple thing and turning it into another simple thing.

    Remember, we still know very, very little about how our own cells are constructed. Trying to create a nanobot than can go in there and create new ones is a great idea, but it's not going to be here next week (or next year, or maybe not next century).

    I suspect that our only hopy will be developing AI powerful enough to do all the hard work for us... (and that's another really big job)
  • So now we are all gonna have out own personal little linux kernels in a eye-bee-em microdrive II style harddrive? I wonder how you can make your own nano-screen....
  • by Hacksaw (3678)
    The obvious solution to the dark side of nanobots usage is more nanobots. Toner Wars, anybody?

    The coolest use of nanatech will be internal cleansing. Being able to clean one's arteries and cells will be the thing that make the nanotech folks very very rich.

    After that would be DNA repair.

    After that, having nanobots build me a new car would be cool. Potentially anyone could do it, with the main factor being speed, since poorer folks would be able to afford as many nanobots.

    On the other hand, I question the idea that a few hundred miles of nanobot photovoltaic roadway could supply the electricity for the entire United States. Has anyone got real math on that, or did the author pull it out of his ass?
  • I personally do not understand why journalists bother creating such a report. First of all, the writing comes off as very uninformed. Granted, this is primarily because he's writing about a field which few people know much about, but it feels like one of those things you see from the early 1900s about how the future will have flying cars and robots and stuff like that. Did it happen? No!

    If you really want to see some good future predictions, go read a book. Who, at the turn of the cetury, made the best successful predictions? Why, science-fiction writers, of course. Tanks, A-bombs, etc., all were predicted far ahead of time. Unfortunately, there were tons of things that they predicted that never came to be as well.

    The lesson to be learned here, I think, is that any prediction of the future is nothing more than a half-educated guess. Especially not from journalists. The future is far too fluid of a place to predict with any accuracy. Live your life and watch what happens. The future shall be far more interesting than we can predict right now, and the best way to find out what it will be like is to go there.
  • This article seems to say: "Ra ra, Nanotech is amazing and will change your life in 50 years. You'll be living in a virtual paradise with all of the world's problems solved." Forgive me for not being so optimistic.

    First, the time constraint. The article claims these things could likely be a reality in 50 or 100 years, citing the discoveries we've made in the past 100 years. But remember that Alan Turing claimed that we'd have AI capable of perfectly imitating a human by the year 2000, and we're nowhere near that. 100 years-- maybe. 50 years? No.

    The article also claimed that the only factory jobs would be design and structuring. Tiny little robots would do all the work. Ignoring the problem of power supplies, I remember the words of Frank Herbert's Dune: "Machines didn't free men. They only allowed men with machines to enslave other men."

    Or what about "synthesizing food to stop world hunger"? The major cause of famines is not lack of FOOD, but lack of MONEY. When you get right down to it, plant organisms are remarkably efficient at building food, far more efficient than robots building food could be. Enough food exists in the world for everyone to be fat and lazy, but the starving people can't afford to buy it.

    Similar rebuttals apply to the rest of the claims. Common sense: 1, Pie in the Sky: 0.

    -Ted
  • by Neal Stephensson does a better job of describing the problems with a nanotech world than this piece does.
  • Got me thinking:

    The one use for nanites that no one seems to focus on is pest control. (and by pests I don't mean Microsoft Windows(tm) NT(tm))

    The reading I now have done, points out that we lose 5 billion a year in stored food due to bug contamination.

    Nanites would work well for this job of bug zapping. They don't even have to 'zap' the bug, just puncture the outer layer of the bug, and let dehydration do the rest.

    All that has to be done is solve the problems of:
    1) Power to the nannite
    2) Controling them
    3) Have them not run amok and re-programming themselves.
    4) Making them taste good with milk or in baked goods.

    On the upside: If you can't control them, at least EVERY box of Fruit Loops(tm) will have a toy suprise! MMMMM crunchy, and they have my daily dose of iron :-)
  • "Nanites" sounds trite. I prefer, "nanities", a mush of "nano" and "entity." Then we can call us larger, organic types "inanities."
  • Is this yet another example of ST leading the way in technology or what?

    Nope. The first proposals for molecular nanotechnology were in the 1950's, before even the original ST series. It's just become better known recently as technology starts to head in that direction.
    ---
  • Yes, there exists a plausible heaven (and hell) upon the creation and mastery of nanotechnology. One of the points the article mentions is the obliteration of hunger and the emancipation of the environment. But, wait, we have the tools RIGHT NOW to do those very same things except that they aren't being used properly or are being kept from the hands of the people who need them.

    All of the good and saviour aspects of nanotechnology the article mentions depend on how the technology will be distributed and put to use. Unless the technology is used on a wide-scale and available to everyone, the heaven-on-Earth described will be limited to pockets of "civilization".

    If we want to take full advantage of nanotechnology in the future, we need to put in place the infrastructure that will support its gains TODAY. If we expect nanotechnology to clean up the environment, we need to take steps NOW to do just that (ie. reduce pollution and provide clean-ups *world-wide* and not just in isolated areas). The same goes with food. We need to put in place fair distribution channels TODAY so that nanotechnology can make use of them to help us save the world TOMORROW.

    Nanotechnology is not a silver bullet and yet the article touts it as such. In order for the technology to really affect our lives in the future, we need to help it along and make sincere efforts to change our lives today -- something which I felt the article failed to mention.
  • Is this yet another example of ST leading the way in technology or what?

    What. Engines of Creation was published in 1986.
    Nanites showed up in TNG in 1989.

    To be even more pedantic, Feynman gave his talk
    "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" in 1959,
    and the ideas behind nanotechnology were being
    widely discussed since the beginning of the eighties.

    K.
    -
  • After reading this, I just couldn't take the article seriously:

    What could we build with Buckytubes? Well, besides the boring standbys such as ultralight space-travel vehicles, we could see super roller coasters that drop you from 14,000 feet [...]

    The author calls ultralight space-travel vehicles (useful applications) a "boring standy" but gets all excited about a roller coaster (entertainment). I stopped reading when I saw this.
    -----
    The real meaning of the GNU GPL:

  • It's very hard to say whether nano tech will ever reach the hights of Neil Stephenson's 'Diamond Age' or Greg Bear's 'City of Angels' (one of my favorites). However I am willing to bet that people will come up with uses that are completely unimaginable today.

    One of the big issues with the sci fi nano tech is the whole concept of assemblers - those little nanobots shuffling around molecules in a coordinated fashion.

    On the other hand there is a great deal of work being done using chip fabrication to build micro mechanical devices. So far they seem to be good for things like sensors including gyros (beleive it or not - they use resonant righ gyro technology with no moving parts). There is also TI's 'Digital Light Processor' chip technology with little mirrors that is starting to show up everywhere.

    Maybe, the sci fi nanotech will never happen but will have inspired some very interesting work done using chip technology.
  • only this time we will see molecular nanotechnology

    Perhaps we won't *see* nanotechnology. That's the scary part.

  • If we have all these little nanites running around cleaning our bodies and making us live better and healthier lives...whats that going to do to the population explosion?
  • Actually... why not just eat the bugs? Not that I would really want to, given my cultural upbringing and all that, but most bugs are good food items. Why throw away contaminated food? Praise the bugs for bringing their added nutrition into the equation, and feast!
  • Looks like artifical life might be a predecessor to artifical intelligence. I suspect these two children of humanity will grow somewhat in parallel, however.

    Irregardless of which comes first, we are slowly gaining the ability to replicate in ways outside the paradigm of history, so far as we know it. Be it artifical life, such as nanites, with the ability to self replicate on that nanotechnological scale, or artifial intelligence, with the ability to desire and feel and react and think and communicate. (MIT's COG, for example)

    And for our next trick, we humans will make artificial life with artifical intelligence and make ourselves completely obsolete! Yay us! We're winners! lol

  • Greg Bear was writing Nanotechnology stories almost 20 years before Star Trek's feeble watered down use of "nanites".

    Take a look at "Blood Music" or even better the more recent "Queen of Angels" which really gives you a feel for the potential of nanotechnology.

    It was cool to see nanotech on Star Trek, but I was greatly disappointed with the story.
  • If the article is correct, and eventually, everything will be software, everything will then be covered by software patents, making all the fuss about what's patentable or not irrelevant. If we could get rid of software patents now, though...
  • Humor.....

    When I got to that part, I just chuckled and moved on. The author does have a certain ironic point here, in that everyone sees the grand visions of what new technology will allow (spacecraft), but never sees the fun stuff (giant rollercoasters).
  • Patch your optic nerves and just install a jack on the back of your head....

  • by jabber (13196) on Thursday October 21, 1999 @07:54AM (#1596666) Homepage
    They're nanites after all.
    They can only take little, iddy-biddy, tiny steps.
  • Haven't any of you ever seen Red Dwarf? Star trek isn't the only sci fi show to use nano's The crew of red dwarf looses the ship, and so they chase it for like forever, and finally the find out that it is in the dirty clothes hamper. Kriten (the android) had a bunch of nono's that were meant to repair him and stuff. So they took over the ship, and it was to big for them so they shrunk it...(kinda weird I know...but if you've seen the show you know thats the whole smeggin' point.) so then they capture them and force them to give the ship back....and it just keeeps getting messy..... so my advice (which should be ignored, because as anyone with braincells >= 2 should realize) is to leave them alone. 00101111 00101110 00100000 01010010 01110101 01101100 01100101 01110011 00100001
  • by jd (1658)
    Nanotech Core Wars would be... interesting... :)

    (Instead of moving through a virtual core, the nanobots would occupy a physical "core", and would alter the state of the medium in specific locations within that.)

  • I suspect it will be a niche product for a long time
    Possibly. But even without AI, I suspect that there'll be one critical step that be the Cambrian explosion of nanotech.
    Those small steps that have been made include a working lever; with a few more small steps (each of which could of course take years), all the components for something useful will exist. Then all Foresight has to do is call in the Lego Mindstorm fans and stick them in front of an STM, and voila!
    This is horribly simplified, of course. But I still expect to see functional, everyday nanotech in the next 30-50 years.
  • The article seems like a pretty straightforward intro to the topic, but it reads like most introductions do: it contains a lot of useful information, but misses some pretty obvious stuff. He also seems to glaze over some of the more profound implications of nanotechnology.

    The author seems to be making a huge leap--that the creation of nanobots will automatically lead to the creation of other things, such as food, energy, textiles, etc. But the creation of nanobots is only a small part; creating the rest of the stuff would be just as difficult as creating the nanobots, or else we'd be creating that stuff now (albeit more slowly than a nanobot could). Even allowing that once we perfect nanobots we could apply those techniques to synthesizing other products, each item would still likely take years to create.

    The idea of using nanobots as a replacement for surgery or in conjunction with other medical practices is an interesting idea--load them up with the appropriate antibodies and send them into the body. But it also presumes that we will have the ability to fight these diseases and infections--which we don't. We still can't 100% cure or precent the common cold, and many other diseases remain uncurable. Although using nanobots as a new method of applying currently-existing medications is a good idea (perhaps a better way to do chemotherapy, or to stimulate hormone production).

    • The key lies in building the perfect assembler.

    Can't that be said for all kinds of technology?

    • Bill Spence believes that all industry would disappear except software engineering and design. We'd simply design, engineer, and do a molecular model of any product we wanted, and then software could tell a nanobot how to make it.

    This seems a little farteched to me. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Weren't they saying in the 60's that by the turn of the century robots would be doing all of the manual labor? Weren't there scares that factory workers would be replaced by automated workers? None of these things have come to pass... And nanobots taking over this aspect of our lives is probably in the same vein.

    Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age relies upon nanobots very heavily throughout the story, and he does it very well. I would recommend that book as a fictional introduction to nanotechnology for anyone who finds technical articles too try (and have recommended it in the past).

    darren
  • Don't alot of those pesky bugs pollanate plants?

    Personally (and I'll prbly piss people off with this comment) I feel that nature (acting through bugs and disease) needs to do more to limit out of control population growth.

    I don't think hunter/killer nannites flying around killing insects is that good of an idea.
  • They can be fed with nano-produced foodstuffs, nano-processed water, living in nano-constructed houses (on Earth or elsewhere) built with nan-processed materials (shipped from the Moon via mass-driver).

    I think these kinds of things would happen long before nanotech is repairing our bodies. In any event, I think any nanotech will present many solutions for any population "problem" it would create.




  • 1. Cost 1.1. It will cost quite a bit to produce machines at the mollecular and sub mollecular level. The smaller the parts the more you have to spend to build it. 1.1.1. (ex) Swiss Watch 1.1.2. Intel CPU's 1.1.3. gem work 1.2. To get a technology to be widespread in industry you need to have it cheaply mass produced 1.2.1. Overhead will prevent this due to creation of machines. 2. Speed 2.1. Something has to have speed to have any value in modern society. 2.1.1. Competition will see to this and naturally force others to increase speed of their creation process. 2.1.2. Supply and Demand 2.1.2.1. Cost will skyrocket with increasing demand due to slow time 3. Range of Tasks 3.1. Anything on even a small scale to humans will not be possible cheaply. 3.1.1. They are small and even if they work fast will not be able to do anything faster than a group of humans. 3.2. Tasks that are dangerous will still mostly be preformed with people just paid more. 3.2.1. (ex) Most people wouldn't part their new Fararri in the slums for a couple of weeks and leave the keys in the ignition. 3.2.2. No one wants to risk an investment on something that has little possibility of success.
  • The major cause of famines is not lack of FOOD, but lack of MONEY. When you get right down to it, plant organisms are remarkably efficient at building food, far more efficient than robots building food could be. Enough food exists in the world for everyone to be fat and lazy, but the starving people can't afford to buy it.

    Yes, you've got it. The problem is that humanity doesn't look after its wider interests. The starving people/countries shouldn't have problems buying food... the rich, wellfed, spoiled countries should provide it. It's the whole 'Let them eat cake' mentality. People have trouble pulling themselves out of their own little world of trivial problems and thus don't see what the real problems are for others. They just can't comprehend it.

    And this will not be solved with nanites or any other technology. The Diamond Age (by Neil Stephenson) was a very cool book... but we aren't going to see that world in our lifetime. And would we really want to?

    This article was a piece of rambling fluff. It mumbled about the 90's equivalent to the 50's flying-car-dream-future. And it had very little real information. I expect we will see a lot of articles like this in the next few years. Becuase nano-tech sounds cool and it's vague enough at this point that journalists can pretend it will create a global utopia.

    How nice. A little unrealistic, though.
    ---

  • by Anonymous Coward
    His books take a good look at both the positive and negative effects of a world filled with genetics and nano(nanoo-nanoo)-tech. Pecifically "Steel Beach" and "Golden Globe".
  • In the SF-books "MoonRise" and "MoonWar", Ben Bova explores an interesting future with nanotechnolgy.
    Very good SF.
  • This article is a bit off on its history - it says that there were no automobiles in use at the turn of the century. The 100th anniversary of the first American killed by a motorist was this year, so automobiles were undoubtedly present in New York in 1899 or earlier.
  • Good read for the flegling to Nanotech, or for managerial types. For a much better Slashdot-level intro to Nanotech, read "The Age of Spiritual Machines : When Computers Exceed Human Intelligence" [amazon.com] by Ray Kurzweil (ISBN: 0670882178). IMHO, this is one of the best books of its type ever written.

    In further critique of this article, I'd say the following sentence severely underrates the severity of the potential dangers of nanotech

    As with any new technology, molecular nanotechnology could have some negative side effects.
    Could have some negative side effects? Understandably the journalist doesn't want to scare people and wants to keep the article light, but come on people... just for starters consider the potential effect of Nanotech-flooding, if a set of assembers gets entirely out of our control and replicates forever at maximum speed until we're buried in heaps of nanotech...

    ---------
    Question: How do I leverage the power of the internet?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 21, 1999 @08:12AM (#1596681)
    I agree, we are at the very begining.

    Kind of like the place my Grandmother (born 1899 - died 1997) was at when she was 4 and the Wright brothers flew.

    Or the place she was at when ENIAC first came on line.

    I was born in 1973, I will soon see in a new century. If genetics and technology have anything to say about it, I will ring in another one before I die. Think of the changes my Grandmother saw. Think of the ones *I* will see.

    Do we have a long way to go?

    Yes.

    But look at all the way we've come in the span of a human lifetime. Look at how far we've come in HALF the span of a human lifetime.

    Will I have 'nanites' scouring my house for dust in ten years? Probably not, but maybe. Will I have them before I retire? Almost certainly.

    How is the Genome Project comming along? Not bad since Watson And Crick only discovered DNA 45 years ago.

    And even if Moore's law cannot be sustained for much longer (and recent chemical techniques may mean that will continue) the exponetial increase in processing power that bleeding edge science has at it's disposal will only continue to hasten the advancment of all sorts of technologies.

    Add to all of this the fact that 'Gen-X' and beyond have grown up with 'high-tech' as an integral part of their environment. Us and younger generations can navigate in this new world in ways (most) older people cannot (and we would be pretty lost in the world of my Grandmother's youth) Add the fact that some kids will now be playing with Lego Mindstorms for years before they take their first physics class.

    Add the almost overnight 'wiring' of the world.

    And how long do you think it will be before the next 'revolution'? Before another technology changes the way science and business is done? Not long I bet. And that revolution will only hasten the one after that.

    We are on the verge of some truly society shattering technology, and that is a Good Thing TM.

    Maybe Y2K is The End of The (Old) World.

    Maybe we are living Armegedon right now, as the Industrial Age crumbles, and we see traditional governments, corporations and institutions crumble or change radically overnight.

    Whew...

    Anonymous Coward


  • by sethg (15187) on Thursday October 21, 1999 @08:12AM (#1596682) Homepage
    Nanotech will be very very useful for certain things, but I suspect it will be a niche product for a long time, happily taking one very simple thing and turning it into another simple thing.
    Or happily taking a lot of simple things, turning them into a few complex things, but also creating a bunch of complex side effects ... which will require human intervention to manage intelligently.

    When writers in the Golden Age of SF predicted powerful computers, they usually didn't predict the tasks involved with maintaining those computers: system administration, database tuning, spam-filtering, etc.

    I think jobs like this will always exist, even as AI gets better and better. We want our machines to serve us, and as our machines get more powerful and more complex, we think of more powerful and complex ways for them to serve us -- but then describing exactly how we want to be served, and describing how to prioritize those services when resources are limited, becomes an intellectual challenge. (Some people have a hard time explaining to other humans exactly what they want; why should they have any better luck with machines?)

    The languages that we (or our agents) use to tell machines what we want from them grow more abstract and more efficient, but our ambitions for what we want from computers grow until they strain the capacity of our languages and our machines' resources ... and then someone invents a more expressive language, or a more efficient implementation of an existing language, or a machine with more raw power, and the cycle continues.

  • OK, so what do you propose that these nanites do with the snot and other body waste that accumulates on your body? Make it disappear? Build nanobot cities out of this material?



    *chortle*

    I can just see it now -- pyramids of mucous and urea built by nanobots all over your body...
  • yOu'd still have to go to the bathroom unfortunately. That's the task that can really put a crimp in my coding. :)

  • Yes and in fact the Mayan and Incan civilizations ate bugs. I believe the Mayans are speculated to have planted reeds for some forms of water bugs to lay eggs and then harvested the eggs to be fried up. This is all speculation, for the Mayans didn't have web pages where they could share with the entire world the best way to fix bugs.

    And within the last 8 months, some archeologists have found grasshopper remains in human fecal matter that is some 10,000 years old.

    Its just that here in the USA, the FDA and Ag departments say that bugs are not a food supplement, but the nasty toxic chemicals we spray on foods ARE ok to eat.

    If the US Ag business wants to BE in the business of selling product to farmers, the best product of the future looks to be hunter/killer nannites, whos job it is to hunt and kill bugs.
  • I think you're referring to persian-kitty.com....but I'm not sure.

  • Exactly. The key point about the Diamond Age being, of course, that we're centuries away from developing nanotechnology. Building these things involves molecular engineering on a vast scale, and a knowledge of biology so precise that you can reduce it to basic simple machines. If you want to produce an autonomous unit capable of reproducing and carrying out a specific function, as well as producing it's own energy, you're essentially talking about a cell.

    Obviously research into developing nanotechnology won't start off so sophisticated - you've no doubt heard tales of bugs that can be injected into the bloodstream. But the Diamond Age kind of nanotechnology - nanosites so small and ubiquitous they can interact with individual cells, but so powerful they can produce individual fabrics and computational behavior - this is years away. We need to distill the principles of biology out before we can reproduce them mechanically.

    SA
  • Why would nanobots be better for building cars (or anything else non-nano for that matter) than big bots?

    I'm confused.

  • Yes. My thoughts exactly. I am always very dubious when it comes to talk of nano tech, mainly because people never seem to adress what I see to be the main issues.

    Firstly, that of temprature. It would be rather hard to build a sky scraper if every now and then pieces of your equipment went flying half way across the city because they were slightly hot, but nanobots will be fscked over by the thermodynamics in the substance their working in. OK, so if you have enough of them you wont care, but it still needs to be thought of.

    Secondly, comminication. because these things are going to be so small, I'm damned if I can figure out a way to comunicate with them. Which means that you either have a "They only do one thing" situation, and I think you can see how that wouldn't be very favorable (How do you make them *stop*?!) or you... um comunicate with them in some way which mysteriously escapes me.

    Thirdly, decomosition. Being so small, evry now and then one of them is going to fall apart for "no" reason: oxidized, reduced... whatever. Once again, if you have enough of them you don't care, but if you subsribe to the "They build each other then do stuff" ideal, an early casualty could be deasterous. (Of course, telling all the bots "that enough building each other, now start building this" is another matter - see above)

    Forthly, making the bots versitile to build both one another and, say, human tissue could be difficult also. Currently we are hard pressed to do one or the other, but both at once?

    Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying NanoTech(tm) is only in the realm of fiction - These four problems (as well as countless others) are overcome every day inside our own body. But what I am saying is that I would be suprised to see useful nanotech inside.. mmm... 50 years? 100 years? I don't know. I always think of those oft quoted quotes when ever I try to give this sort of estimate (64K anyone?), but 50 years isn't too far out, I hope.

    Oh, Btw, If any of this is complete BS, is most likely because its 6am and I'm just about to go to bed, not because I don't know what I'm talking about - generally, I do.
  • This remindes me of a situation that Tad Williams, in his sci-fi novel "Otherland" imagined concerning nano tech.

    There was this company who produced molecular sized cleaning machines for your house - the idea being that you would never need a vaccum or duster again becuase these robots would remove all the dirt by "eating" it. Anyway, in the case of this one family, something went wrong with thier batch, some sort of environmental problem, and the robots were unable to distingush between dirt and non-dirt. The result bieng that they devoured, molecule by molecule, the entire house and the family cat!
  • ..and 3) wonder why people, merely because of the subject matter, think that some TINY step toward something cool, get all excited.

    I already know that this will be on the 6pm news today. Make me want to read my old copy of BIll Gates' The Road Ahead.

  • I'm glad to see the nano discussion moving closer to the mainstream, but this author seems to have read the (free, online) book Engines of Creation and stopped there. The idea that the nanites would have to be self-replicating is one that Drexler disavowed in Unbounding the Future. In that book, Drexler argued that replication is a complex function and is itself responsible for some (though certainly not all) of the "Dark Side of Nano" problems. He was in favor of function-specific nanites for nearly all uses - they're easier to build, easier to control, and would never have the potential to mutate. Aren't those points directly relevant to the article?

    Given that the C/Net article is a pretty elementary version of intro to nano, it's a shame the author didn't bother to look at several sources, not to mention the most recent (and even more layperson-friendly!) writings of his source.

  • I was not clear in my original post.

    The $5 billion figure is for STORED food products. (Lord knows how you would figure a realistic number for insect damage in the field.)

    Keep in mind, the insects that affect stored food are not a 'bug found in the wild', but are able to thrive BECAUSE we humans make habitats for the bugs.

    As far as pollinators go, simple solution:
    1 release the nannites at planting
    2 Issue a recall signal 2 days before you bring in the portable bees
    3 Let the portable bees do their work
    4 re-release the nannites

    Most of the time, pollinators are NOT pest species.

    The only real difference between the biological agents and nannites is Monsanto and others can make money year after year on nannites, just like the do on seed and pesticides. Once you have a good biological plan going, it is self-regulating.

    Thing of the market:
    Biodegradable nannites!

    (Hermos is actually a taste tester in this new market. Notice how any time Nannites come up he says yum)

  • I bet you added just as much to the other discussion, too.

    (First post is fun to get, but if you're not gonna add content, why post at all?)
  • Yeah, I suppose it could have been humor. It just happened to punch one of my hot-buttons (the entertainment-driven popular culture of America, as illustrated by television programming and the shallowness of TV "news", and the way some people/companies seem to want to take the worst features of TV (advertising everywhere you turn, two-second soundbites) and make the Web emulate that rather than using the Web's rich potential) and considering that the article had been broken up into five or six sections to increase the number of ad impressions, I just assumed the author was buying in to the "TV" mentality.

    *Deep breath*

    All right, I'm not going to submit you to yet another rant about television. You can come up with your own, I'm sure. Yeah, I hope the author was being humorous/ironic there.
    -----
    The real meaning of the GNU GPL:

  • Although it may not be feasible to design a single nanite that can self-replicate *and* preform some other useful function at the same time, you could probably design nanites whose sole job it is to replicate other nanites.
  • OK, so what do you propose that these nanites do with the snot and other body waste that accumulates on your body?
    Burn it into its constituent atoms, of course.

    This technology will make its users feel most comfortable where the ambient air temperature is around 40F. Programmers will abandon sweltering California, and flock to Alaska's new "Silicon Tundra".

  • The one scenario that keeps coming to my mind is that early on in nanobot development some nanobot AI coder is going to be hacking some code late one night and introduce a small bug that just causes the bot to keep reproducing itself out of whatever's around. She'll tell her nano-bot-building-machine to build the first one, and becuase it all compiles cleanly, she'll go home for the night.

    She'll wake up in the afternoon to find a huge sea-like nano-mass where her lab used to be. Which will be a huge swarm of nanobots deconstructing each other to build new copies of themselves except for the outer layer, which will be busy devouring the earth's crust in an attempt to do same.

    And because the technology's new, we won't be able to stop them with other more advanced bots, 'cos they haven't been invented yet.

    We might be able to nuke them....

    K.
  • WTF? The whole point would be for them to break down the wastes into their component atoms. You could sweat every bit of waste you have, or recycle it all, or whatever.

  • Or what about "synthesizing food to stop world hunger"? The major cause of famines is not lack of FOOD, but lack of MONEY. When you get right down to it, plant organisms are remarkably efficient at building food, far more efficient than robots building food could be. Enough food exists in the world for everyone to be fat and lazy, but the starving people can't afford to buy it.

    This will be the biggest problem with more automation. If 90% of all work become automated should 90% of all people be out of work and poor? Or should everybody only have to work 10% as hard? My fear is that it will turn out to be more of the first than the second.

  • Funny thing... I originally read that as "nanosnot" cities. VERY weird mental picture... :-)
    -----
    The real meaning of the GNU GPL:
  • We're all forgetting the nasty little realities that will make such things as instant sex changes, freedom from all disease, perfect replication through nanobots, etc, impossible. They're too small. A nanobot, by definition, is little more than a single molecule, or, in some cases, two or three. This means that all tradtional manipulation tools are have been long abandoned, leaving us with little more than some fancy enzymes and proteins. Yes, fancy proteins can replicate them selves, and make more enzymes, but, fine control is extremely hard to exert, and if I send some of these fancy molecules into you to start tearing apart cancer cells, how do they tell those from the rest of your cells? What's to stop them from rampaging through your entire body, ripping every cell in your body to shreds, and moving onto the next host, and the next, as the man-made virus from hell?

    Nanobots and tailored enzymes are best put into use to relatively simple, single purpose jobs, such as endlessly replicating a chemical, say insulin. Machines on this scale can never be multipurpose, and that's what prevents them from doing such things as building cars from blocks of steel and aluminum. They don't know how or where to stop. And a HK Nano could never be programmed to do anything more than destroy all nano's of one, or all types, making them very limited in use.

    Furthermore, items on a molecular scale are affected far more by force fields than tools used in modern engineering. They will be extremely vulerable to electromagnetics, especially so if any sort of polar imbalance exists along the molecule composing the nanobot. Anything above this scale begins to become invasive, and can't travel a body without wreaking all kinds of havoc.

    Nanites may be the stuff of sci-fi dreams, but there are cold hard realities to consider, and it is highly unlikely that they will ever become the mother of all solutions to humanities problems.

  • Northwestern University is currently in the process of building a new chemistry building specifically for nanotechnology. It has been named the "Center for Nanofabrication and Molecular Self-Assembly". Here's an article on the whole business. [dailynorthwestern.com]
    Unfortunately, I work in the building that they're tearing down for this...
  • Instead of having to buy a $100,000 robot, you buy $1000 worht of nanobots. The trade off is that you have to wait 2 weeks for them to finish.

    One the other hand, you could use the car while they are working on it. They could be forming the interior while you are moving, assuming they had the raw materials.

    Plus, when it was done, they could hang around in the engine and filter stuff, like oil and air (assuming an IC engine) or wandering around the interior cleaning things (and maybe using the dirt as new raw materials?). Plus, if you decided you didn't like the design of some bit, you could have it changed at will.

    "By the time we finish dinner, the car should have fins!"

    Wow. The ultimate spy car.

    "He was driving a blue Astin Martin."

    "The only car we have seen is a red MG."
  • Ahh Nanotechnology. The key to the future, or not?

    The way I see it nanotechnology is the future, and it is only a question of when it will be implemented not if. To me it seems it will be a long time to we see nanotechnology implemented on a large scale.

    First their are a number of practical problems in the way. The biggest one I see is computational and storage power. If each one of these little nanites is going to be self replicating, then it is going to need to contain, within itself, instructions to build a complete replica of itself with the materials it can find. This in itself is no small task, as the nanities will be neccessarly very complex machines. Also necessar are instructions to do all the various tasks that the machine will be designed to caryout. Human cells are increadibly complex living machines. The idea that a nanoscale machine will be able to contain directions for repairing all of the millions of types of cells in the human body to me seems to be a vary long way off, if not impossible altogether.

    Going along with the necessity of storage space is the necessity of processing power. Nanities will not be opperating in the ideal enviroment. They will have to make on the fly desions about what to do in various situations. Now while the level of sophistication here is not as great as elsware. It will still need to have a decent amount of realtime processing power.

    Also associated with the previous two issues are the ramifications of bugs in the system. If my computer crashes, it is a bad thing, but not necessarly life threatening. But if I have 1000s of nanites crawling around in my body, and things go wrong with their code, I could be in vary real danger.

    These are just some of the problemes that must be overcome for nanotechnology to succed on a large scale. There are many, many, more. From power generation, to nano to macro level interface. It is a truly monumental task to be acheived.

    On the other hand, once nanotechnology is perfected, the world will be transformed into a very, very diffrent place. The rammifications boggel my mind. We would see a world completely transformed. No longer would "things" have value. Why should they when a couple of nanities could build it out of some dirt in your lawn. The only things of value would be ideas and certain raw materials. The effect this would have upon our society would be truly incrediable. For a possible future I suggest you read the book Slant.

  • "Oh, Btw, If any of this is complete BS, is most likely because its 6am and I'm just about to go to bed, not because I don't know what I'm talking about - generally, I do." Maybe so, but this time you don't. All of these things have been addressed -- sometimes repeatedly, and from various directions -- in the literature. Look it up. Articles like this one are very simplified -- and yes, often oversimplified -- overviews of the field. Critiquing the subject on the basis of articles like this is likewise oversimplified.
  • 411? sounds like some kind of httpd response code can't remember which though.
  • I don't think predicting the impact of any technology is easy, especially when it is nascent. And eventually, all worthwhile technologies find some wonderful application that no one would have dreamt off -- including its inventor and the crystal-ball-types.

    So what will nanotechonology do to us? well, who knows... but then some of us have to make a living...
  • I don't think predicting the impact of any technology is easy, especially when it is nascent. And eventually, all worthwhile technologies find some wonderful application that no one would have dreamt of -- including its inventor and the crystal-ball-types.

    So what will nanotechonology do to us? well, who knows... but then some of us have to make a living...
  • "No one will ever need more the 640K" -- B. Gates

    Failing to see the possibilities is a national pastime. But not a useful one.

    Think on this: While we are not near the level of tech in "The Diamond Age", no assumptions are made about future discoveries, as far as basic tech.

    We can take things apart atom by atom right now, and assemble them. Not very fast, mind you, but it's possible. And they have made solved the basic problems of manufacture at that scale, now the problem is the method of application, which is any easier problem.

    On the other hand, I'm not going to make a prediction. Too many variables. But I'd guess it to start well within our lifetime.
  • While these speculations are simplistic -- and presented as such! -- pointing out that someone else's prediction about something else was wrong has little to do with whether these predictions will be wrong. That's not a rebuttal, that's faulty logic.
  • Check out Foresight [foresight.org].
  • I think this article just ignores the two most important questions regarding the making of the nanobots.

    1. How are they going to be powered? I can't picture how to wire all these together.

    2. How are they going to get the smarts to know what they're supposed to do? You can't that big of a computer on the thing if it's going to be a nanobot, and yet you would have to if the robot is going to be of any use!!
  • I don't like the idea of nanobots for several reasons:

    1. Military potential of nanotechnology. Anything that *can* be used as a weapon will be/has been. It started with sticks and rocks, and now has progressed to H-bombs and chemicals. Soon we will have biological weapons in wide use. Having viruses engineered to caused maximal damage to humans is scary enough, imagine machines doing the same!

    2. Human population. One use that nanobots will have is probably to increase the amount of time that people are sexually reproductive. What I mean is that people will be able to have kids at later ages. Instead of having two or three children in their twenties, couples may be able to have multiple "sets" of children. After one set of children hast grown up and moved out of the house, they may opt to have more kids. This coupled with the possibility of longer life will cause a population explosion in the western world. The more people there are in a confined space, the more tensions rise. When tensions rise, war will eventually break out.

    3. Loss of identity. If these machines will be able to give out nosejobs at a whim, then what will stop them from making every man look like Arnold Schwarzeneggar and every woman look like Cindy Crawford (forgive me if I'm using bad celebrity examples, I'm a little out of the celibrity-watching circles). You might argue that outside appearance don't matter, it's what's inside a person's mind that counts. Sure, but wouldn't these nanobots be able to muck around with our brain cells too? Sooner or later, we'd end up with a society of people who all are mechanically altered to be the same. What does this mean? EVOLUTION WILL GRIND TO A STOP!!!

    No way, I do not like this idea one bit. But at least I'll be long dead before anything of the sort is invented, or at least useful. It's the next generations that will have the problems.

  • Yet again, an article in which people talk about the wonderful (and terrible) things that nanotechnology has in store for us. These people don't seem to have any idea about the massive scale we're looking at here.

    The dangers of Nanotechnology as both a weapon and the potential commercial misuse are staggering. Journalists are right to question the potential outcomes of this technology, just as they were right to question the justifications of molecular biology advances back in the late '70s. That journalists printed many mistaken ideas and displayed the ignorance of a layperson, compared to the knowledge of a scientist on the inside, doesn't disqualify them from printing valuable stories in order to inform the public.

    I don't want to be a killjoy, but we're still taking the very, very first few step. The equivalent of looking at Hero's engine and talking about spaceships.

    I don't understand the reference to Hero... Sorry. But I think you would find K. Eric Drexler, and the folks at the Foresight Institute [foresight.org] might disagree on your timetable. The point they make, and one which I agree, is that the critical threshold discovery for viable molecular manufacturing is Self Replication. Once we can build a robot which can replicate itself using ambient atoms, we can actually begin manufacturing materials on a large scale. You might argue that this manufacturing process is fraught with the perils of complexity for which we can't plan. And you might be right... but I suspect that this kind of manufacturing is highly parallelizeable, hence the success of biological organisms, and we're going to find that a few fairly simple rules will allow us to build very complex three dimensional systems just like biological organisms.

    Nanotech will be very very useful for certain things, but I suspect it will be a niche product for a long time, happily taking one very simple thing and turning it into another simple thing.

    You've got to be kidding me. Nanotech represents the biggest (smallest) manufacturing shift ever. It's weapons potential make it a sure bet for NSF/DARPA funding for some time to come. And with funding on that scale, expect returns. How long did the government seed molecular biology research before it turned commercial? And before it turned commercial, how long was that research providing useful products to the military?

    Remember, we still know very, very little about how our own cells are constructed. Trying to create a nanobot than can go in there and create new ones is a great idea, but it's not going to be here next week (or next year, or maybe not next century).

    Nitpick: I hate it when people tell me to remember a point they're trying to present forcefully. As a reader, it's not my job to remember your stated position before it's even been written! :-) But that's not a fair complaint against your argument. We know a hell of a lot more about cell development and its molecular mechanisms today than thirty years ago. We actually know enough to create entirely new forms of bacteria. We have the general idea for how all the mechanisms work, even if some mysteries (such as protein folding) persist. This is after thirty years... and many technologies created researching molecular biology will be transferable over to molecular nanotechnology... we have a hell of a head start with this endevour compared to researchers in the sixties. I think you're a bit too skeptical here...

    I suspect that our only hopy will be developing AI powerful enough to do all the hard work for us... (and that's another really big job)

    Wow... now developing real AI is a seriously tough job which requires major new scientific discoveries before we can even begin thinking about a timetable. Nanotech almost just an engineering problem at this point... I don't think we'll need any form of self aware machine in order to resolve the parallelizeable problems of complex 3D manufacturing that Nanotech implies. And honestly, given the strategic nature of this technology, we're going to see nanotech advances a hell of a lot faster than you're predicting.

    But I hope not... Humanity is less ready for Nanotechnology than discovering Atomic Bomb. And we still haven't figured a way out of that mess yet.
  • First their are a number of practical problems in the way. The biggest one I see is computational and storage power. If each one of these little nanites is going to be self replicating, then it is going to need to contain, within itself, instructions to build a complete replica of itself with the materials it can find. This in itself is no small task, as the nanities will be neccessarly very complex machines. Also necessar are instructions to do all the various tasks that the machine will be designed to caryout. Human cells are increadibly complex living machines. The idea that a nanoscale machine will be able to contain directions for repairing all of the millions of types of cells in the human body to me seems to be a vary long way off, if not impossible altogether

    Everyone seems to be assuming that the nanites will be autonomous creations which react of their own volition. I don't see that as a viable option at all. Instead I would propose that a central computer system be used to coordinate the nanites, it would contain all information and processing power that the nanites needed. The only obstacle then is communication. The nanites must communicate their surroundings to the base machine and the base must send out commands to the nanites. This brings up two problems, 1. The nanites must be able to 'know' their surroundings somehow to transfer the info back. 2. There must be some way for communication to take place.

    Once those two are taken care of, I don't see a problem with coordinating 40 trillion nanites to manufacture a car from a pile of dirt.

    An alternative to this would be instead of using nanites as labor, we simply use them to manufactor raw materials and/or fuel from more common substances. Imagine being able to take a bigass sand dune from the Sahara and turn it into steel plates or something of the sort. In order to revolutionize industry the nanites need not replace labor.

    Kintanon


  • Now, don't get me wrong. I'm not saying NanoTech(tm) is only in the realm of fiction - These four problems (as well as countless others) are overcome every day inside our own body. But what I am saying is that I would be suprised to see useful nanotech inside.. mmm... 50 years? 100 years? I don't know. I always think of those oft quoted quotes when ever I try to give this sort of estimate (64K anyone?), but 50 years isn't too far out, I hope.


    Hmmm... I think 50 years is too far out. As the post above notes: think about the world 50 years ago. Think about the ammount of progress made in the past 50 years... it's absolutely mind-blowing. Now, consider that not only is technological advance accelerating, but the acceleration is accelerating. The world 5 years from now is unimaginable, let alone 50 years! We've lost the ability to reasonably predict future trends, because they've come and gone before you can finish your sentence (figuratively speaking).

  • Going along with the article to agree that the entire nano-technology is possible and that this will then result in a surge of machines able to take raw materials and produce cheap and strong products, what happens to all of the people who actually work at production for a living? What do they do then? Suddenly, the people who have to be creative for a living are effictively slaves to their job as that can't be "replicated". Now all those factory workers sit at home on their replicated couches, eating their replicated pork rinds, with 100 appliances all on powered by replicated solar highways. Meanwhile the actors, musicians, writers, etc. are stuck still working. Okay maybe that's a little off base...but unless we are going to provide things for free (like food, housing, etc.) all the people who do any sort of production work would be jobless. Imagine taking almost all of the workers in Detroit and laying them off. It would be the resurgence of a new Luddite era. Even something as simple as the "McJob" becomes replaced. You walk up to a counter, swip your smart card, and your Big Mac, Fries and Coke are all "made" right there for you. Huge cultural changes will have to take place before this kind of technology can be used. Everyone compares this to Star Trek. Isn't it funny that in the future money is no longer used but they never show you what everyone does outside of Starfleet. If money and financial gain is no longer an issue (as you have a replicator) why would people feel the need to "work".
  • "The smaller the parts the more you have to spend to build it."

    This doesn't always follow. The parts in my PC are *much* smaller than the parts they're using to build the bridge near where I work, but the bridge costs *much* more.

    "To get a technology to be widespread in industry you need to have it cheaply mass produced 1.2.1. Overhead will prevent this due to creation of machines."

    I'm not sure what you're trying to say here. Nanotech will probably be amenable to mass production, just as micro-tech currently is.

    "Something has to have speed to have any value in modern society."

    Which (a) is not always a good thing and (b) is, thankfully, not always true. In any case, nanotech may enable speeds (both production speeds and travel speeds) in excess of what's available today.

    "Anything on even a small scale to humans will not be possible cheaply."

    Uh, given the context in which this discussion is taking place, this is just ... silly. Ever look at a CPU in a microscope?

    "No one wants to risk an investment on something that has little possibility of success."

    People are already investing in nanotech.

  • And do what with that waste? It has to go somewhere. Are these breakdown products just going to go * poof * ?
  • Burn it into its constituent atoms, of course

    And what is done with these constituent atoms? This material has to be taken care of somehow, it doesn't just magically disappear with a sprinkling of "nanites".
  • And do what with that waste? It has to go somewhere. Are these breakdown products just going to go * poof * ?

    Actually... you'd also rarely have to eat anything! All the waste products would be broken down into their constituent atoms, and reassembled as nutrients to be fed back to your cells. Recycle, man, recycle! Any element that wasn't useful to your body can probably be used to build more nanobots. But, yeah, you'd probably have to go to the bathroom at least once a month, and eat at least that often.

  • What if, over the course of evolution, nature really did make the brain as small as possible to be a self-aware self-replicating self-gratifying machine? To put it more finely, what if the smallest possible machine that can do all of the functions the human brain can do is *exactly* the same size as our current equipment? That, on some quantum level, our brains are tee-totally perfectomundo and cannot be made any better, at least while serving the same purpose(s).

    Nature tends to design efficiently. It wouldn't surprise me in the least if we ran up against some physics barriers while trying to make an AI. Which I guess is what I'm talking about and not really nanotechnology so I guess I'm just totally off topic here all of a sudden.

    - Rev. Scat
  • The CNN piece wasn't any different than any other popular press article that shows up every century or half century. The clock is quickly ticking through the last few moments of what a rather large cross section of the planet refers to as the twentieth century. Journalists who also consider themselves futurists or have a passing interest in technology (maybe they picked up a pulp science fiction novel at some point) make all kind of predictions. Most of these predictions won't pan out.

    These types of predictions are futile and I'll try and explain why. Consider the first computers, big bulky monstrosities that used large amounts of energy to do some small number of calculations and as a side effect produced huge amounts of heat. There were a number of differing views on what the impact of these devices would have on society. Some people felt that the US would need maybe 5 in total mostly for military or industrial use with no major impact on the general public. Other people felt that each community would have one as a shared resource and it would enable mankind to produce their own utopia. I don't recall reading any early prognosticators stating that every person in the industrialized nations would have one or more computer like devices in their posession (remember that from the point of view of the early machine designers a pocket calculator would be a pretty wonderous computer, not to mention all the hidden computers in microwaves, VCRs, TVs and automobiles!). They couldn't foresee microelectronics, it really wasn't even a blip on their radar screen. The actual reality turned out to be that everybody has access to computing resources but everybody still works. Nobody predicted the enabling technology of microelectronics and at the same time forgot that people still need food, clothes and like to be entertained. All of this means that somebody, somewhere needs to work.

    Next consider electrical power and the enabling technology predicted for it: nuclear fusion. In the fifties everybody was sure that nuclear fusion would supply us with cheap, clean and limitless electrical power. Just the thing to power our personal aircraft and homes of tomorrow. For close to fifty years economically feasible nuclear fusion has been just around the corner but so far as of October 21, 1999 12:55 pm central standard time its not happened. The truth is that it may never happen but if it does there will be some enabling technology that enables nuclear fusion that will have been invented. Enabling technologies to enable enabling technologies. Even well respected experts in the field (real experts, not the guy who does the weekly science column for the hometown paper) can't predict this technology with any certainty.

    This is the current situation with nanotechnology as well. It may well be 'just around the corner' for our lifetime, and our childrens lifetime and... Or it may happen in 25 years, or in 10 years. Lots of discoveries and inventions with respect to nanotechnology are made. In order for nanotechnology to happen in a meaningful way we need DISCOVERIES and INVENTIONS though. When these fundamental enabling technologies happen (if they happen) nanotechnology will take off and the impact on society will be vastly different than the utopia the experts (this time it is the guy who writes the weekly science column for your local newspaper) predict.
  • The CNN piece wasn't any different than any other popular press article that shows up every century or half century. The clock is quickly ticking through the last few moments of what a rather large cross section of the planet refers to as the twentieth century. Journalists who also consider themselves futurists or have a passing interest in technology (maybe they picked up a pulp science fiction novel at some point) make all kind of predictions. Most of these predictions won't pan out.



    These types of predictions are futile and I'll try and explain why. Consider the first computers, big bulky monstrosities that used large amounts of energy to do some small number of calculations and as a side effect produced huge amounts of heat. There were a number of differing views on what the impact of these devices would have on society. Some people felt that the US would need maybe 5 in total mostly for military or industrial use with no major impact on the general public. Other people felt that each community would have one as a shared resource and it would enable mankind to produce their own utopia. I don't recall reading any early prognosticators stating that every person in the industrialized nations would have one or more computer like devices in their posession (remember that from the point of view of the early machine designers a pocket calculator would be a pretty wonderous computer, not to mention all the hidden computers in microwaves, VCRs, TVs and automobiles!). They couldn't foresee microelectronics, it really wasn't even a blip on their radar screen. The actual reality turned out to be that everybody has access to computing resources but everybody still works. Nobody predicted the enabling technology of microelectronics and at the same time forgot that people still need food, clothes and like to be entertained. All of this means that somebody, somewhere needs to work.



    Next consider electrical power and the enabling technology predicted for it: nuclear fusion. In the fifties everybody was sure that nuclear fusion would supply us with cheap, clean and limitless electrical power. Just the thing to power our personal aircraft and homes of tomorrow. For close to fifty years economically feasible nuclear fusion has been just around the corner but so far as of October 21, 1999 12:55 pm central standard time its not happened. The truth is that it may never happen but if it does there will be some enabling technology that enables nuclear fusion that will have been invented. Enabling technologies to enable enabling technologies. Even well respected experts in the field (real experts, not the guy who does the weekly science column for the hometown paper) can't predict this technology with any certainty.



    This is the current situation with nanotechnology as well. It may well be 'just around the corner' for our lifetime, and our childrens lifetime and... Or it may happen in 25 years, or in 10 years. Lots of discoveries and inventions with respect to nanotechnology are made. In order for nanotechnology to happen in a meaningful way we need DISCOVERIES and INVENTIONS though. When these fundamental enabling technologies happen (if they happen) nanotechnology will take off and the impact on society will be vastly different than the utopia the experts (this time it is the guy who writes the weekly science column for your local newspaper) predict.

  • It featured a movie which predicted radar would be used to solve crimes, find lost objects, and generally accelerate man into the age of aquarious. Television failed to live up to its promise, i think in 50 years we will file this article next to the articles about personal flying machines and table top fusion generators (both of which are still possible, but they didnt spring into existance as was promised)
  • Or what about "synthesizing food to stop world hunger"? The major cause of famines is not lack of FOOD, but lack of MONEY.

    WRONG! We could feed more people if money weren't an issue, but there is not enough food on the planet to feed the rapidly increasing population. There just isn't. Well... ok, there might be right now. But ten years from now, when the world population is well above 10billion, there simply won't be enough food to feed everyone, even if we shared it equally. There isn't enough arable land to grow it all, especially since increasing population causes more habitats and farm land to be bulldozed for housing. Hydroponics might help, but can only go so far. It will reach a point where the nanomachines are more efficient than the plants, since the plants will be out of room. The other option is forced colonization of space... lotsa room out there. 'Course, nanobots could make that much more feasible too.

  • Assuming the most optimistic case of the impact of nanotechnology, we could suddenly find ourselves in a situation I have been predicting for several years. Since Eli Whitney developed the concept of the assembly line, industry has been making amazing progress in its ability to produce more goods at less cost in a shorter amount of time. Computerization has increased the pace of progress toward efficiency (measured in effort hours to produce a widget, not neccessarily in cost; economists normally talk about efficiency in terms of the ration to capital invested vs. the return on capital; I am speaking here only of the human investment). This is immediately obvious when you consider how many people you know are actively engaged in "real" work (the production and distribution of food, construction of homes, medical practice, and other effort that is generally necessary for the continuation of life as we know it) versus the number who are engaged in non-productive work (advertising, web site design, movie production/distribution, selling clothes at the GAP, and other work that is not essential to the maintenance of life). We continue to move toward a service economy. Thus far, human efficiency gains have been mostly limited to agricultural/industrial work (replacing mules with tractors (allowing one farmer to farm a greater area of land) or replacing auto workers with robots), and have been limited by the government (farm subsidies to keep economically unviable farmers in production) or unions (through contracts which guarantee jobs which might otherwise be eliminated by increases in efficiency). To a lesser degree we have seen this in clerical positions (no one has a typists pool anymore; Also, fewer people have secretaries who work directly for them). If we take farming as an example, you will notice that the price of many agricultural commodities is undergoing a prolonged and severe depression because it is possible to product a far greater amount of food than consumers demand. Nanotechnology, the Internet, and other nascent technological developments stand to further accelerate our move toward human efficiency and expand it into other areas. The problem is that demand is basically a limited quantity. Invention of new products can serve to create additional demand, but these products are usually luxuries and demand for them fluctuates with people's perception of their wealth. When there is insufficient demand, prices drop, forcing companies to find means of operating more efficiently. Frequently, this means cutting employees. Thus, it is conceivable that we may in the near (20-50 years) future face a situation where excess production capacity forces a downturn for prices in every industrial sector (quality AI could do this to service industries as well), forcing companies to cut employees, further reducing the quantity of demand available in the economy. I'm not sure that our current economic systems can survive such a situation. Naturally, the optimistic Star Trek fans will suggest that we will all lead idyllic communal lives in harmony with nature and wealth will be completely abolished, but such does not seem consistent with human nature.
  • Hmm, let's take a short walk down a dark road.

    What kinds of accidents or eevil designs could we have with these things? Let's see, umm: (disclaimer: each of these items has probably been thought of *many* times before)

    1) nanoviruses - like software variety, but reproducing with explosive growth. Mechanical Outbreak anyone? What will the CDC do? Downsides could include:
    - using up a heck of a lot of carbon and leaving vast amounts of nano-junk in its place to wade or swim through
    - using off-limits resources for self-replicating, like say, my arm. Hmm, maybe this should be in its own category called "3) eating the wrong thing"

    2) bugs - nanites with software bugs. I wouldn't want Microsoft-programmed nano's anywhere near my home. How do your install sevice packs on trillions of molecular critters running amok?

    3) nano's eating the wrong thing, like say
    - people
    - oxygen
    - plants
    - our power grid
    - the earth's mantle (say if there were geothermal powered nanites)

    4) missing or failed comprehensive kill -9. I could just imagine some tired lab engineer saying "whoops, that's not what I intended. Oh, they're eating though the container. Hungry little guys aren't they? Maybe I'll just hit the panic button around now ... oh, they ate the panic button."

    5) wrong product made by nanite assemblers.
    - lots of uranium instead of lots of geraniums
    - meat with human DNA (you know, the "people for dinner" scenario)

    Okay this is getting silly so I'll stop now.
  • Just as computers break down data into its most basic form--1s and 0s--nanotechnology deals with matter in its most elemental form: atoms and molecules.

    This is a really bad analogy or metaphor, or whatever the heck they were trying to say. Computers, as far as I know, don't break down data into its most basic form. Data is on and off in regards to a computer and it's hardware, and not all data is lodged in a computer anyhow. Data is a loose term for information. Furthermore, I thought that quanta(quarks and such) were matter's most basic building blocks.

    In regards to nanites being able to do things on a macroscopic scale(I mean noticable by humans), the science of complexity will play a huge roll in the development of nanosystems. If you doubt the ability of nanobotes being able to perform complex tasks like building a new car, or repairing the body, think about your own body and it's cells. Nanobots that work together will not neccessarily have to be of the same make & model if you will indulge me. Your cells are by no means the same type, yet they work together on a cellular level to make the entity that is you. They work together because of genes and their ability to self-organize. Self-Organization will play a crucial role in nanosystems. Chemical reactions also display this ability, like the B-Z reaction.

    Making nanabots work together on macroscopic scales will be a very black art, but I believe far from impossible.

  • OOPS... Used HTML on the last one when I meant to use text. Should have used the preview button.

    Assuming the most optimistic case of the impact of nanotechnology, we could suddenly find ourselves in a situation I have been predicting for several years.

    Since Eli Whitney developed the concept of the assembly line, industry has been making amazing progress in its ability to produce more goods at less cost in a shorter amount of time. Computerization has increased the pace of progress toward efficiency (measured in effort hours to produce a widget, not neccessarily in cost; economists normally talk about efficiency in terms of the ration to capital invested vs. the return on capital; I am speaking here only of the human investment).

    This is immediately obvious when you consider how many people you know are actively engaged in "real" work (the production and distribution of food, construction of homes, medical practice, and other effort that is generally necessary for the continuation of life as we know it) versus the number who are engaged in non-productive work (advertising, web site design, movie production/distribution, selling clothes at the GAP, and other work that is not essential to the maintenance of life). We continue to move toward a service economy.

    Thus far, human efficiency gains have been mostly limited to agricultural/industrial work (replacing mules with tractors (allowing one farmer to farm a greater area of land) or replacing auto workers with robots), and have been limited by the government (farm subsidies to keep economically unviable farmers in production) or unions (through contracts which guarantee jobs which might otherwise be eliminated by increases in efficiency). To a lesser degree we have seen this in clerical positions (no one has a typists pool anymore; Also, fewer people have secretaries who work directly for them). If we take farming as an example, you will notice that the price of many agricultural commodities is undergoing a prolonged and severe depression because it is possible to product a far greater amount of food than consumers demand.

    Nanotechnology, the Internet, and other nascent technological developments stand to further accelerate our move toward human efficiency and expand it into other areas. The problem is that demand is basically a limited quantity. Invention of new products can serve to create additional demand, but these products are usually luxuries and demand for them fluctuates with people's perception of their wealth.

    When there is insufficient demand, prices drop, forcing companies to find means of operating more efficiently. Frequently, this means cutting employees. Thus, it is conceivable that we may in the near (20-50 years) future face a situation where excess production capacity forces a downturn for prices in every industrial sector (quality AI could do this to service industries as well), forcing companies to cut employees, further reducing the quantity of demand available in the economy. I'm not sure that our current economic systems can survive such a situation.

    Naturally, the optimistic Star Trek fans will suggest that we will all lead idyllic communal lives in harmony with nature and wealth will be completely abolished, but such does not seem consistent with human nature.
  • is not "little more than a single molecule", it is a robot built to nanoscale precision. It has a computer on board (or it wouldn't be a robot), sensors, and tools built into it. It can perceive and respond to its environment.

    I agree, however, that microscopic nanobots probably aren't going to be all that useful. They can't see the big picture, so they can't really know what's going on around them. They also can't have terribly powerful computers because they're just too small. Power sources will be problematic, as will communication, further limiting their uses.

    IMHO, nanobots will show their greatest potential, not as isolated nanites, but in huge differentiated linked masses (closer to mammals than microbes). This will make them better-coordinated and a lot less likely to go berserk on a self-reproducing rampage (think self-expanding, not self-reproducing). They can still have nanoscale tools, they'll just know where they are and how what they're being used for fits into the larger task.
  • As you said, everyone wants to compare this "not having to work" situation to Star Trek....why the hell does everyone forget about our *real life* history?

    There are countless examples in history of people who were so rich that they didn't have to work, exmples include: the ancient Greeks (who had slaves up to thier eyeballs), as well as most of the European aristocratic families as they were a few hundred years ago. These people didn't have to "really" work for a living so what did they do? Primarily three things as I can figure: Politics, War, Philosophy (including math & sciences). Personal motives would include fame, leisure, and/or technological and philosophical advancement.

    Well, that's my opinion anyway and food for thought at the very least.
  • They also can't have terribly powerful computers because they're just too small.

    Uh... thinking of ENIAC, I look at my calculator watch. What was that about being just too small? Oh, sure, there's evidence we may be reaching the limit of what we can do to miniaturize our processors, but every time they think they've hit a limit, somebody extends it. It would be foolish to imagine we can keep doing this forever, but equally foolish to believe you'd put a traditional IC on a nanobot. I don't think Moore's Law is going anywhere... when we reach the limit of silicon, we'll use organic computers, or quantum computers. Technology has always solved all our problems... why should we believe that will change? Everyone is always harping on how we can't allow ourselves to believe that tech will solve everything... but why not? Knowledge is power. I very much believe that we will eventually (if we don't kill ourselves off first) solve all social, economic, and environmental problems with technology. And I also believe that those solutions will probably arrive much sooner than we can imagine, since the progress of technology is exponentially accelerating.

  • Or what about "synthesizing food to stop world hunger"? The major cause of famines is not lack of FOOD, but lack of MONEY.

    I think it's overpopulation and poor distribution. But generally, I agree: famines and other ills are social and political problems; we already have the technology to make our world a "garden of Eden".

  • I'm not an idiot, I'm not talking about putting a traditional IC on a nanobot, I'm speaking relatively. A lone microscopic nanobot's computer will not compare in processing power or memory to a network of billions.

    As for tech solving all problems, having no problems is a problem in itself. The less people are challenged to survive, the higher the suicide rate goes up. Life becomes pointless when you have nothing to fight for.

    IMHO, immortality will create a population explosion that will create new problems. Population can expand exponentially, and access to matter and energy can only expand cubically as we rush away from the earth at the speed of light, eventually the average person won't be able to afford the mass of a natural body, and will struggle to produce something, anything of value merely to support the trickle of energy that supports their own brain. Those who can't make it will replace their lower brain functions with lighter, cheaper artificial replacements, a bit at a time until there is nothing left but a ghost that acts like them but is not, which will slowly fade away as it consumes itself. The few very powerful, OTOH, may have whole planets in natural states for their amusement, complete with populations of pet humans with natural bodies. Eventually humanity will consume the universe and leave a cold husk devoid of the possibility of life. C'est la vie.
  • Yes, I realize the basis of this thread was humor, but it seems that many people consider "nanites" to be capable of magical atomic rearrangement to/from any configuration, with no energy cost at all. I'm afraid that just ain't so.

    Burn it into its constituent atoms, of course.

    Hmm...last time I checked, snot was a non-flammable substance. Even one molecule at a time, you could only get a physically sustainable reaction if the end products have a more stable energy state than the raw materials (or else you have to add a bunch of energy from outside).

    Water (the main component of any bodily goo) is an extremely stable & low energy compound. There's just no way to transmute water into anything else without adding a whole lot of energy. Where will that energy come from? And where will it go after it's been wasted into heat?

    I guess most computer science majors aren't required to take thermodynamics, otherwise you'd already remember There's No Such Thing As A Free Lunch.

  • They are molecules and according to the article, they aren't even big molecules. 3 atoms wide? A nm (nanometer) is about three atoms. Nanotech machines would have features on that scale - that doesn't mean that they'd only be 1 nm across. Think maybe more like a few hundred nanometers across.

    Could a machine on that scale handle problems of power, propulsion, etcetera? Yep. They're doing it now. We call them - or maybe more properly, assemblies of them - bacteria.

    Nature's already solved all the problems you cite. It took billions of years of trial and error, but we have an existence proof that solutions are possible. Now the task is just to create more efficient solutions, and to apply the solutions to new problems.

  • ...then the population will grow and you'll need to send more food, and more food, until there's really not enough food.

    The cold hard reality is that people need to be starving at the bottom because people will always be breeding at the bottom. If some people are not inclined to breed, the next generation will be mostly composed of people who are inclined to breed. The only other option is enforced population control, which IMHO isn't any better.

    Like most liberals (excuse me for labelling you, but your post is classic liberalism, so I'll respond to your state of mind when you posted it), you think everyone should be feeding the poor, but you won't apply it to yourself. As a wealthy citizen of a rich country, you have an enormous power to help those in poorer countries. If you eliminated luxuries from your life, you could feed hundreds who will starve. Every time you buy a candy bar, you could have provided a family with a sack of grain. Every time you upgrade your computer, you could have dug a well and prevented several fatal infections. Your monthly internet bill could keep a small village alive through a bad time.

    Perhaps you are generous, perhaps if everyone gave as much as you, there would be no problems with starvation (at least right now). But you would rather have the government coerce everyone to give as you do rather than give up your precious luxuries and act privately.

    These things are your choice, as plainly as if you faced a child's head on a chopping block and a vending machine with a dollar in your pocket and had to choose between delaying the child's death for a week or buying a snack.

    I know these things about my own life, and I accept them. Morality is enlightened self-interest. I obey the law, at least in serious matters. I am loyal to my friends, kind to those near me, even generous at times. I deal honestly, so that everyone involved profits, and preferably so does the local community and the society. I do not concern myself with the problems of those who are far away, unless it threatens to affect me. People profit by association with me, and so those I could profit from choose to associate with me. I do not support those who do not threaten me and my offspring, but might grow to do so with my support.

    Am I moral in an absolute sense? I don't care. I am as moral as I want to be, and my actions are no less moral than the average. If my awareness makes me immoral, so be it, but if others are unaware it is because they are blocking the line of thought, rationalizing; the evidence is clear.
  • I'm not sure that our current economic systems can survive such a situation.

    Naturally, the optimistic Star Trek fans will suggest that we will all lead idyllic communal lives in harmony with nature and wealth will be completely abolished, but such does not seem consistent with human nature.

    No, our economic systems couldn't survive. That's because our current economic systems are stupid. B-)

    This isn't a new problem. "Overproduction", or "underdemand", has been on the horizon for years now as a trend of the Industrial Revolution. I recall stories by Kurt Vonnegut (Player Piano) and Frederick Pohl (The Midas Plauge) about it. The American response has been basically to prop up demand by social pressure to "keep up with the Jonses", by planned obsolescence, and by the introduction of new products that no one really wanted, but we are duped into thinking we can't live without; the trap of the consumption lifestyle.

  • I guess someone had better spell it out.

    The nanomachines could distribute themselves either throughout the entirety of the body's skin and mucus membranes or throughout the whole body. There's no need for any magical "burning into constituent atoms", because the machines would be interlinked, either directly or into larger scale transportation systems, so any material that needs to be eliminated (or provided) at any given site is moved bodily.

    All this talk of energy problems misses the rather basic point that nanomachines are *already* doing this throughout our bodies. The current ones are soft protein-based, whereas we'll be heading for hard MNT because of its better engineering properties. Despite the differences in detail, the energy considerations aren't all that different in the two cases, so lack or excess of energy certainly doesn't look like a showstopper of any sort.

    Having said that, this subthread completely misses another point: once it becomes the norm to have hard MNT machines running around your body, it's only a matter of time before bodies will no longer stick to their homo sapien form at all, so "personal grooming" may end up about as relevant to you as it was to the "liquid-metal" Terminator.

...when fits of creativity run strong, more than one programmer or writer has been known to abandon the desktop for the more spacious floor. - Fred Brooks, Jr.

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