This is no oversight. Nanotech isn’t on the list because nanotechnology has been so distorted by the popular press and researchers who add “nano” to their projects in order to get funding that, today, it essentially means “anything that’s really tiny.” That’s not a technology. That’s a scale.
Makers of artificial joints drill tiny holes into the surface of the joint structures and call it nanotechnology. Why? The holes are nano-scale. Makers of pants that resist stains claim to use nanotechnology, too: pant fibers are coated with “nano whiskers” which are, essentially, tiny cloth fibers. Even sunscreen makers claim to be using nanotechnology: tiny particles in the sunscreen lotion claim to make the sunscreen more effective.
By this measure, everything is nanotechnology. I mean that literally: every “thing” is nanotech because it’s made of a collection of very tiny molecules. Your computer has a nanotech CPU, your radio has nanotech transistors, your brain is made of nanotech neurons, and the carrots in your refrigerator were built from an impressive nanotechnology infrastructure that fed them nutrients from tiny molecules diffused into the plants’ nanotech roots through soil.
The whole universe is, in fact, nanotech. In fact, every item of matter in the known universe is made up of tiny particles and, ultimately, waves of energy and probability. Under this vast umbrella, nearly anything can be called “nanotechnology.” And it’s not a misnomer: everything really is nanotech!
Since everything is, technically, nanotech, product makers and science researchers can legitimately claim to be using nanotechnology on practically any project. As a result, the term has lost any real meaning. “Nanotech” now belongs on the scrap heap of catchy buzzwords that sound cool but are devoid of any real meaning.
The preferred term for the “classic” definition of nanotechnology is molecular assembly technologies. This phrase remains specific: it means the assembly of objects or machines at the molecular scale. And that’s what classic “nanotech” was really all about.
So why haven’t I covered molecular assembly technologies in this report? While the field does look potentially promising, it’s still a bit early to say what the real-world applications are going to look like. I plan to cover this subject in more detail in a future report, however.
In the mean time, here’s one are where I think nanotechnology has gone astray. One of the most frequently mentioned areas of nanotechnology is in medicine, where researchers promise that an army of millions of nanotech robots will travel through the bodies of medical patients and repair cells, destroy tumors, rebuild damaged tissue, and perform other medical miracles. These researchers forget that the body already has its own nanotechnology that does all this and more! It’s called the immune system and the best way to improve the quality of life for most people, in terms of health, would be to support their own natural healing abilities. Injecting a swarm of tiny robots into their bloodstream — which is precisely what is being proposed by medical nanotech pioneers — is a fundamentally flawed medical strategy that assumes scientists know how to heal people better than the body itself. The true answers to improved health and quality of life are to be found in nutrition, physical exercise, avoidance of disease-causing foods, and a wholesale shift away from pharmaceuticals and Western medicine. Nanotechnology is not a promising solution for health and healing, but it is a great way to rack up funding grants and, someday, charge patients hundreds of thousands of dollars for complex-sounding treatments. But remember, the body already has its own nanotechnology, and it’s far superior to anything nanotech scientists can come up with.
Putting it all together
The top 10 technologies presented here offer a potential roadmap for enhancing our collective quality of life through technology. But as I hinted in the beginning, technology is not the answer to life. Without philosophy, the arts, spirituality, experiential wisdom and personal ethics, we are doomed as a civilization, regardless of the technologies we may invent. These technologies only make sense when we are mature enough as a species to wield the powers they offer us