|Interview on nanotechnology for CRN Magazine.
Gina Miller questioned by Ed Moltzen 2002
Q1.You conducted on one of your web sites what looks to be an unscientific
but interesting poll. It says 69 percent of those who responded believe
we'll see full-blown nanotechnology in five to ten years. Do you agree with this
and where will we see it emerge first? (i.e. Products, technology, medicine,
A.The immense progress over the last ten years in nanoscale structures, such
as scanning probe microscopes and molecular electronics should make the next
decade promising for use of nanotech in computing. Full blown "Drexlerian"
nanotechnology however requires general purpose programmable assemblers,
that is, devices that can arrange large numbers of individual atoms in
complicated patterns to build complex devices, including devices that can
make copies of themselves. This makes the timeline farther away, and the
speculative date is often up for debate. Advances that we as a society have
made show us that one advance in particular can exponentially create more,
while that advance itself, or technologies in general, can come without
warning. Another important factor that will decide the timeline for the
future, depends on how research is supported. Many mainstream scientists do
not believe that it will be possible to build a general purpose programmable
assembler this century. Another consideration is the time and designs it
would take for the medical robots that would repair your body, cells and
aging. Designing these nanobots would require so much time and manpower that
it could take more time. I can not predict when this strong nanotech will
arrive, the standard estimates seem to be between 15 to 30 years. I can only
guarantee one thing, and that is my hope, that it occurs within my lifetime.
Q2.Are companies like IBM leading the research in the nanotechnology area,
or are the academic institutions, or are people from both areas working
A.There is a lot of interesting work being done both in universities and in
companies. Some important work is a collaboration between researchers at a
university or government laboratory and at a company. Sometimes research
starts in a university, and when it gets promising, the researchers found a
company. One thing that really helps progress is when minds meet at
conferences, where work is shared and explored, in particular the Foresight
Institute Conferences on Molecular Nanotechnology.
Q3.What sparked your interest in nanotechnology?
A. I saw a movie that aired on the local Public Broadcasting Station. I
believe, the movie was Future Quest, but I can not prove it, as it is out of
distribution. I saw the astounding applications of this science demonstrated
and realized the ramifications that it would enable us as a society. I saw
the vision that spoke of the potential for a healthy society, with long
life spans, with clean air and fed children. I could not ignore this
compelling hope for the future.
Q4.What would you say are the misconceptions about nanotechnology, if there
A. Nanotechnology inspires both hope and fear. Medicine would be
revolutionized. Instead of conventional surgeries or medications, repairs
would be made invisibly and painlessly. Our bodies could be rebuilt to
reverse aging, and cure disease. Computer systems could also be almost
invisible, smaller than human cells. Environmental pollution and problems
could be resolved on the atomic level, giving us pure air and perfect soil.
On the other hand nanosystems could get out of control, run amok and eat the
entire world, literally. Weapons of mass destruction, unlike any before,
would be cheap and easy to make. It is natural for people to fear such
dynamic and unseen forces, but one hopes these fears establish policies or
guidelines rather than squash the healing potential altogether (and there
would be those who carry on anyway): this would be a misconception.
Q5.Looking ahead, what milestones should we look for over the next few years
as research and development of nanotechnology moves forward?
A. Currently, milestones are already in progress, leading to smart materials,
better sensors and faster computer circuits through molecular electronics.
The true breakthrough will be the first who assembles a crude system of
molecular machines, that itself can build molecular machines. This would be
the road to the first assembler, and that, would be the milestone of