Saturday, October 2, 2010

Revolution or Evolution?

I have encountered a few reoccurring perceptions of nanotechnology.

The first, which is waning fast (or at least changing forms), is the "revolution" perception. In this perception research and development of nanotechnology is assumed to reach revolutionary industry changing status quickly and forcefully. Beyond the descriptions of how this will occur (molecular manufacturing...e.c.t) there is consensus from those who follow this view that nanotechnology is both highly useful and provides superior functionality that will be quickly integrated into industry.

The second group are the nay-sayers. They claim that "nanotech" is a buzz word, a manufactured term used by savvy money hungry researchers attempting to entice policymakers into giving them money for their projects. Obviously, they tout, material scientists and engineers, molecular chemist and engineers, pharmaceutical companies and pretty much anyone looking to continue research has already been doing "nanotechnology" for quite a few decades. They attribute the "growth" of nanotechnology and nanoscice as merely the growth of the label, failing to see it as something novel. Advances in instrumentation and reduction in the cost caused an increase in the number of researchers with access to the nanorealm, and hence the growth of a label. To them it is simple, nano-claiming folk are charlatans wich may or may not harm the development of advanced technologies by over-selling to the public.

Also, in quick mention, there are hard researchers them selves. Generally they are so bogged in managing their projects they have hardly any time to form any perception outside of the scientific and pragmatic... Until it comes time for them to feel entitled to be given their dues. Think shortly of failed pharmaceutical companies and you will know what i mean.

I personally believe both of these groups approach the idea from the wrong direction. They each of course have their uses, the revolutionaries enticing larger audiences and spurring their imaginations, and the nay-sayers keeping anything from going too far into unfamiliar territory, managing risk. And there is always risk, be it for industry or academic research groups, but they fundamentally miss the whole point.

We need to take inventory of the reality of the situation, a reality where the world is not spurred into joy and unity from the out-puts of the lab, nor does the I-phone and it's cleverly constructed and competitive smart phone industry bring about the enlightenment, rather what we have seen is the development of tools to engage with and increase our understanding of natural phenomena. Indeed, "nanoscience" is merely the natural progression of "science" into domains further and further to the point of finest measure, whereby the recursive nature of the search increases the resolution of that metric as we progress. But the landscape of that metric is vast indeed... Although much of the world is addicted to technology, that does not mean that much of the world is necessarily technologically progressive. Rather, much of the technologically consuming world is still best understood in terms of individuals working towards local goals (i.e house payments, bank account).Undoubtedly our increasingly technological cultures give us access to information and increases our connectivity, yet one must not be hasty as to claiming that a culture which consumes technology is capable of realizing the full potential of technology as an abstract essence.

And much is the same for nanotechnology, nanoscience.
For anyone that has watched the progress of the last ten years it is obvious that within the nano realm there is so much variance as to how matter can arrange and the properties that this entails that to make any type of functional sense of this will take more then fabricating in mass quantity carbon nanotubes. The sheer size of the domain and it's sensitive nature will cause stark division among developers of nano-systems as to what is appropriate or possible. There will be those who increase the performance of familiar structures, and there will be those who seek to create novel and powerful systems that appear at times foreign. And of course, between these two extremes will be the majority.

So it is inline with these thoughts that i believe that nanotechnology will not be a revolutionary disruptive movement. It will an evolutionary movement, and it's products will not be brought to the betterment of all but to the betterment of the few (and i don't mean people specifically, also industry). And this may still promote benefit, for consumers themselves do not consume in all forms but only those which they are most interested in, or most familiar with. Thus, smart phones and other devices akin to mobile computing and sensing will definitely increase in sophistication because of nanotechnology. Industrial coatings and functionzation of surfaces will also come to pass and become mainstream. Development of composite materials with nanoengineered component is another sector that finds ground even now. But the most significant technologies, those outside of the interests of most folk, those which have the opportunity to re-define what it means to be creative creatures, those will not come to pass so quickly and without problems.

Yet it is in those foreign and extreme technologies where there is much mystery, and perhaps one day we will have people living 300 years.... yet not without their never ending nano-therapy sessions.

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