I wrote a paragraph near the bottom about the growing commercial use of the term to sell product; I'll see if I can dig up some other examples. If the article blows up I won't be in tears, but at least it inspired me to work on Buzzword :) -- BillGarrett
- LG or Samsung advertises NANOplasma air conditioning (June 2004, I saw ads in Russia).
- BTW, if Du Pont used molecular simulations to design a coating with special material properties to cover fibres so that stains are repelled, that actually does qualify as nanotech. If you design materials that have atomic precision (more or less), that is nanotech.
- reserved for products that actually exploit, and rely on, the properties of small scales, and which simply fail if scaled up.
How about gears used for nanomechanical devices? Why shouldn't that be called nanotech? I think this needs a rewrite.
I agree with the above -- I couldn't follow what was there and some of it was at odds with the more comprehensive Wikipedia article. So I have reduced it to a stub, left the other SW links and the refs and posted the culled text below (there are a few small bits that could be worked into a more comprehensive article that is a bit more relevent to SW. --Bob Burton 04:43, 23 Nov 2005 (EST)
- The term "nanotechnology" was coined by K. Eric Drexler in his 1986 book Engines of Creation to describe the general ability to design and build machines atom-by-atom on the molecular scale. Drexler believed that molecular engineering at nanometer - about five atoms wide - scale would eventually reach the stage that just about anything made from atoms could be built this way. The key turning point for nanotechnology would be the creation of a machine that was deft enough at molecular assembly that it could create copies of itself--a molecular assembler. According to Drexler, an assembler could be limited (designed to not be able to make certain things) or a universal assembler. Because molecular assemblers can self-replicate, swarms of these machines could be quickly and cheaply reproduced to in turn build just about anything on any scale. The ramifications of this level of technology on human culture would be so staggering that many people have understandably gotten carried away speculating about it. While this speculation is interesting, it is contingent on the creation of a self-assembling machine, which could be a long time coming, if it comes at all.
The idea of harnessing self-assembling machines has a long history. For example, while he was not the first to speculate on machine self-reproduction, In the October 1956 issue of Scientific American, Edward F. Moore whote about "Artificial Living Plants". These plants would be ocean going floating robotic factories that would harness sunlight and materials from the sea water air and ocean floor and use them to make more floating factories. These factories could then be harvested for parts for our own use. While this was to some extent realised in automated factories, where robots create automobiles almost without human input, such factories remain few in number and none of them actually produces copies of the same robots it uses.
While Drexler's vision of Nanotechology is still a vision of the future, the word nanotechnolodgy with it's scary, new tech, and brave new world connotations has become an irresistible tool for propaganda.
It is today sometimes defined as all activity that is designed by humans takes place at one to one hundred nanometer scale, where gravity and friction effectively cease to exist, and electrons' wave properties dominate. By this standard, titanium and much of the drug and cosmetic industries qualify. Ted Sargent, a scientist with the University of Toronto and Canadian Institute of Nanotechnology, claims that the cosmetic firm L'Oreal has the largest portfolio of patents at this scale, due to its manipulation of scent agents that may be only a few molecules in scale. The quantum dot is a small transistor that can convert solar energy into electricity. Small medical sensors that can be swallowed without harm are also a major subject of review.
By contrast, Drexler's original vision focused on the seemingly inevitable molecular assembler he speculated was inevitable, which could assemble nearly anything much as enzymes assemble proteins. Nanotechnology is not biotechnology, though engineers may use enzymes to "bootstrap" development of the first assembler.
There were two distinct reactions to this claim in the 1980s. One was to dismiss it as alarmism or pro-technology propaganda. Another was to engage in exploratory engineering to design new molecules of all kinds, which had the effect by the late 1990s of producing several designs based on carbon nanotubes.
However, the potential of self-replicating molecular assemblers are now deprecated by two specific groups:
- those concerned with the ethics and capacity to control pseudo-organisms that may compete directly with organic life - Bill Joy - these argue to relenquish nanotechnology as an even more dangerous technology than nuclear technology.
In other words: Don't do it.
- those who claim that such potential doesn't exist, and that the organisms are fantasy - Richard Smalley discoverer of fullerenes.
In other words: It can't be done.
By 2003, the Smalley camp was on the wane in a technical sense. An open letter sent by K. Eric Drexler to Richard Smalley establishes the dominance of the Drexler and Richard Feynman position that atom-by-atom molecular engineering is feasible and that ever-smaller molecular assemblers cannot be ruled out as a result. In a public relations sense, the Smalley camp is dominant. Government and industry is most concerned with advanced materials science and has shut out the assembler concept and Drexler.
To further complicate matters, molecular electronics claims the term for advertising and hype purposes, often labelling anything nanotechnology if it has any sub-nanometer features, such as paths etched by X-rays on a chip. The US National Nanotechnology Initiative however rules out this kind of work in qualifying for grants. And, at a recent conference, attendees were forbidden to discuss assembler potential - quite possibly to avoid an overly excited discussion of potential weapons of mass destruction.
The term itself has become all but meaningless, and figuring out what someone means when they speak of "nanotechnology" is not simple. For this reason, the term should really not be used at all, as all three common uses of it are propaganda for a position or an industry.
For example, "nanotechnology" has slowly begun its transformation into buzzword status, with such examples as Dockers' Go Khakis being advertised as having a nanotechnological component.
The continuing exploitation of nanoscale physical properties, and their inevitable assimilation into commercial products, will only create further confusion about what is and is not "nanotechnology" - a term which should properly be used for products that actually exploit, and rely on, the properties of small scales, and which simply fail if scaled up.
K. Eric Drexler has done a good job of informing the public about the potential for abuse of nanotechnology as well as its better uses in environmental cleanup and elimination of poverty. Informing the public on nanotechnology is the purpose of Drexler's group the Foresight Institute. Drexler's founded the Foresight Institute with the publication of the first book on the subject: Engines of Creation.