Nanotechnology’s Spring

Nanotechnology sometimes sounds as much like science fiction as artificial intelligence once did. But the problems holding it back seem solvable, and some of the answers may lie inside our own bodies.

Nanotechnology is the production of complex systems using individually placed atoms or small molecules as building blocks. In Storrs Halls’s vision, it would enable physical materials to have almost magical properties. If you want not only a flying car, but one that can fold up into George Jetson’s briefcase, or for furniture to seemingly materialize out of thin air when needed and to disappear when not wanted, nanotechnology is for you. Yet the emphasis must be placed on almost magical. Storrs Hall insists nanotech is grounded in reality. ‘Absolutely standard physics, quantum mechanics, and chemistry’, he says, ‘predict that certain arrangements of atoms will behave as workable machine parts, and our existing knowledge in these disciplines allows us to calculate the performance of machines so built.’

If nanotechnology as envisioned by Storrs Hall is possible, then it makes a mockery of claims we have ‘picked the low-hanging fruit’ of economic progress. The future of industry could be radically different than it is today. In a decade or two, with the proper urgency, claims Storrs Hall, we could have unfathomably high living standards. The promise of nanotechnology may be hard to believe in, but it’s at least worth an investigation.

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