Nanotech is a computer-aided approach which is transforming many fields and stimulating new industries. Expectations are that it is a next-big-thing equivalent to what personal computers, the internet and web were when they began. The ethics, engineering, effects on medicine and exciting scifi are reviewed below. If all goes well, perhaps this civilization’s legacy will be more than just space junk.
Recent links (about 23): computer: quantum, semantic web: Kingsley Idehen, finance: startups in Boston, minerals in Afghanistan, nanotech: architecture, FDA, futurist: singularity, space: lunar water, NSWP, Kepler exoplanets, presentation: glogster, virtualization: skype, energy: urban, disaster recovery: gulf oil spill, historical chart, photography: photoshop.
What Is Nanotechnology and Why Does It Matter: From Science to Ethics, by Fitz Allhoff and others, 2010
After a basic introduction, e.g. recalling Drexler’s molecular assemblers from 1987, this book delves into the social concerns about nanotechnology. The authors are a scientist and a pair of philosophers. Scale reduces energy consumption. Tools include the electron microscope, scanning transmission (STEM), scanning probe microscopy (SPM), and atomic force microscope (AFM). The engineering challenge is to industrialize scientific development in terms of specification, monitoring and mass production. Among major philosophical topics is the risk in terms of conditions, probability and expected impact. Though the state of the field incrementally improves existing products, present laws do not account for the downsides to humans and animals. Better testing processes are necessary. There is a detailed analysis of the objections to stricter laws. Enhancement integrates tools into anatomy, always on, and is expected to revolutionize engineering. Sleep may become more of a bimonthly rather than nightly requirement. Nanomedicine ethics are discussed, e.g. Bawa and Johnson. The developing world may not be seen as profitable. In this book, in the context of distributed justice, nanotechnology is not unique in unfairness of accessibility to cognitive advances, e.g. similar to university costs. Privacy has been demonstrated as an issue, e.g. related to RFID tags. Potential uses to impose biases for individual control by bureaucracy, e.g. patriotism, may themselves be hard to limit. Defense probably develops war robots and the arms race turns to miniaturization.
This does not cover longevity, space or molecular manufacturing, laws or regulations, or economic impacts
Handbook of Nanoscience, Engineering and Technology, William A. Goddard, 2007
This textbook presents a set of themes describing the current state of nanotech. There are five sections containing twenty-four chapters on potential, concepts, processes, assembly, and functions. About a couple of dozen organizations contributed from US, Russia and Venezuela. Most are academic, e.g. universities of Illinois, North Carolina or Northwestern, and there are some US government space and defense researchers. Feynman introduces the subject. Most chapters have multiple authors, some have a single, and a couple of authors wrote or participated in a pair of chapters, e.g. Karl Hess for U of Illinois or Sergey Lyshevski of RIT. The contents are technical, including equations and graphs, and there is some Matlab source code. Chapters have intros and conclusions, acknowledgements and many references. There is no glossary, though there is an index and digital versions would have search. As an example, the final section has eight chapters on functional structures and mechanics. Nanomechanics links science and engineering, e.g. multiscale multiphysics schemes. Figure 20.1 shows the history of the tech from Mayan age ceramics after 10k BC to synthetic control of macromolecular structure now, and discusses biomimicry through dendrimer assembly. Atomic simulation resolution doubles every 19 months. Strength and fracture properties are outlined. A challenge is to control carbon nanotube growth chirality and diameter for computing-related applications. The optical properties of materials are engineered in photonic crystals. Preparation techniques are being developed for bulk production of nanostructured materials. Modeling and CAD are used in multidisciplinary confluent engineering, e.g. for nanoarchitectronics. In summary, there is a lot of general interest in convergence of nano, bio, info quantum and cognitive tech and this book has supporting examples.
The Handbook of Nanomedicine, Kewal K. Jain, 2008
The title of this book denotes types of tools and approaches rather than a medical specialty. It is derived from biotech and nanotech. The initial applications are expected to be for personalized medicine, e.g. cancer therapies. New tools include 3D nanomaps and the scanning mass spectrometer probe (SMS) used for drug design at cellular level. Nanoparticles can be coated or chemically altered so as to be nontoxic, though they can also be effective for nanoviricide. There are many types of applications, e.g. sunscreens or donor-derived exosomes for organ transplant acceptance. A lab-on-a-chip has chemical experiments for use in battlefield exposure testing. It allows platforms for precise imaging, diagnosis, targeting, drug delivery, destruction, treatment, and therapy. Nanomedicine can also be used in combination with other approaches, e.g. radiotherapy or physical modalities of therapy. There are public misconceptions and fears, so education is warranted, and there will probably be FDA regulation. The detailed table of contents hints at the depth of coverage in the eighteen chapters. There are many new structures and techniques, e.g. devices, machines, chips, robotics, materials, implants, barcodes, needles, tweezers, motors, shells, tubes, fibers, scaffolds, valves, pores, filters, coatings, crystals, emulsions, filaments, lasers, fluidic channels and wire. The nano prefix can be applied to several new fields including biotech, systems biology, bacteria, antibodies, genomics, proteomics, pharma, encapsulation, diagnostics, surgery, therapeutics, dermatology, dentistry, immunology, geriatrics, pulmonology, neurology, and regenerative medicine. The author also lists vendors and academic research centers.
Small Miracles, Edward M. Lerner, 2009
“Speech was so old species” says one of the emergent characters who considers humans to be Neanderthals in this transhuman techno adventure. Where Daniel Suarez had a parasitic AI influencing a group of people, and Robert J Sawyer had one further connected cybernetically through an eye implant, Lerner adds nanobots. This doesn’t go as far as Paolo Bacigalupi in genetically engineering creatures, but it does have a lot of detail about how humans might be medically enhanced. Initially intended to support first aid for government security equipped with new nanosuits, the temptation for a hybrid augmented reality awareness captures human nature. Without further spoilers, it is clear that the author researched the topic. His characters and dialogue are vivid. Italics are used occasionally for thoughts. The backgrounds of at least three of the main characters are fleshed out in separate parts well into the story. Settings are briefly sketched except, for example, to indicate heightened visual acuity in places or where necessary for action such as weather conditions. There are eight sections for about four dozen brief chapters. It is told in the third person omnisciently, including emotions, and an occasional machine perspective. Medical terms and R&D equipment get added detail. The plot may be more convincing since it is near future and there are not a lot of other inventions. The year is 2015 and the pacing opens dramatically with a threat to the main character’s survival. The total duration is about two years. Each chapter is titled by a date, a few have times if a couple are on the same day, and the Reaping has nine times before the epilogue. Success of the authors’ series above may hint at a sequel.
Documents of interest:
Communicating Nanotechnology, European Commission, 2010 (16.4MB ZIP PDF)
Human Enhancement Ethics: The State of the Debate, Bostrom and Sarulescu, 2008 (PDF)
Blogs of interest:
Nick Bostrom home page
Videos of interest:
David Byrne: How architecture helped music evolve
Reducing Existential Risks [UKH+] (1/3)
John Underkoffler points to the future of UI