Implications of Nanotechnology

What do you think the implications of nanotechnology are? As we move into an era of increasing understanding of AI and Genomics, what will the implications of microscopic robots bring about? To me the idea of nanotechnology is a revolution far more broad in scope than the industrial or information revolutions. I also see the advancement to come at a much more rapid pace than microprocessor advancement as I expect nanotech to accelerate Moore’s law, as nanotechnology helps build better microprocessors which in turn accelerate the speed of AI processing, which helps design better nanontech which helps design better processors.

Here is a BBC article about the subject:

This is an issue that I think about a lot when I discuss politics, and I feel when we are discussing the issues that we face with globalism and such, that nanotechnology is within the next decade going to create a whole new industry of cheap manufacturing that could crush industrial era production.

Socially I see nanotechnology changing the entire political makeup of society, rendering our current style of liberal vs conservative debates almost comical as we start to discuss deeper ideas of what is actually conscious and what is not, and who should have this awesome power, and how it should be regulated. I also believe that it will bring about the ability to terraform, and the colonization of other celestial bodies will be imminent. With new territories to expand to, how will that affect the arguments we have now? Also, with depolymerization taking anything organic and turning it into a fuel source, what will that do to existing resource structures?


I think we’re very close to basic nanotechnology applications, but it’ll be of the rote mechanical variety. We are a long, long way from self-replicating nano-machines or nano-machines with any kind of intelligence. We don’t even know how to do that.

I suspect the kind of nanotech we’re going to see will be things like powders made up of nano structures that will clean or lubricate better than things we have now. Machines that can detect certain chemicals perhaps and break them down. Very simple tasks like that.

Hopefully, someone will develop a use of nanomachine that prevents people from quoting whole frigging’ post. :stuck_out_tongue:

I think the potential for nanotech is staggering, and the implications are profound. Especially I think the effect of nanotech on medicine and industry are potentially fundamental in how they could change society in the future. Think about it…nanotech could essentially make human beings immortal with stronger bodies, quicker reactions and smarter…not to mention allowing them to be ‘plugged in’ to our data nets without the bother of things like a computer or a cell phone. Industry is even more profound as nanotech could allow for the production of just about anything without all that bothersome manual labor. In addition it could allow for the creation of new exotic materials we can’t even conceive of today, as well as things we think are impossible today (like the space elevator for instance). Even the enviroment could be profoundly effected as we use nanotech to address things like global warming.

Sure, all this is pie in the sky and gods know how far in the future we are talking about…more than my lifetime Im’ sure (if ever). But the IMPLICATIONS of the technology are pretty profound if you really follow it through to what it COULD do in the future. I think that nanotech, more than anything else man has done, will profoundly modify not just how we do things but impact what we ARE.


The promises of nano-tech have been hugely overblown by a couple of wild-eyed futurists who haven’t actually done any work in the area and rely on blatantly misguided extrapolations which ignore serious problems which are quite likely unsolvable.

Real, actual, nanotechnologists have raised several quite important technical difficulties associated with nanotech that the futurists seem to pointedly ignore. We largely know what nanotech is potentially capable of, seeing as it’s just conventional technology scaled down. Scaling down might introduce a lot of new problems but it doesn’t magically fix any of the old ones.

Some quite serious objects include:

  • Distributed algorithms: We’ve been working on this problem for well over 50 years on computers and we’ve gotten surprisingly little from it. Quite simply put, building distributed systems is hard and there are very few things that can scale to even a few hundred seperate processing units let alone a few trillion.

  • Communication: How are you going to communicate with nanites and how are they going to communicate back? Theres only so much bandwidth that you have availble and it’s spread among a few trillion nanites.

  • Energy Supply: How are you going to power your nanites? A lot of what nanties are “supposed” to do require absurd energy densities to be practical.

  • Thermal stress: Chemical bonds are still chemical bonds, they break down at certain temperatures. It seems highly unlikely that we could build many nanites that could survive above 300C. Many nanites will only work at very specific temperatures and would be incredibly fragile at other temps. Building nanites that survive in “real world conditions” will be an incredible challenge.

  • Error correction: How do you build a trillion identical nanites? You build 1 self replicating nanite and let it multiply of course… Except that self-replication is never perfect and we don’t know of a single method that can self-replicate 1 trillion times without a single error. How do you build a system in which routinely 10 - 20% of your nanites contain errors? And those errors might make them do anything? And you can seperate working nanites from rogue nanites?

There are a lot more but these are just the ones I could think of off the top of my head. The thing is, that we’ve been dealing with these problems in larger scale systems for decades, sometimes even centuries and we still haven’t solved them. Shrinking down to the nano-scale isn’t going to magically solve any of them, it’s just going to make it worse.

The best way to imagine what nano-systems are capable of is to look to nature. Natural systems have pretty much pushed the limits of nano-scale devices, theres likely very little we could do to significantly improve on it. We might see more lethal viruses, or more effective enzymes. But it would also inherit the weaknesses of nature. Copying is a slow and error prone process, it’s hard to control and the link between cause and effect is not clear. It’s remarkably fragile and only works within very narrow conditions. And it’s very hard to imbue it with any sort of intelligence above the ant heap/bee hive level. The wild, misty eyed woo woo stuff that Kurzweil & co are promoting is nothing more than a pipe dream.

I know quite a few chemists who work in nanotech (although they would never call it that), and they are uniform in their dismissal of Eric Drexler (the “father of nanotech” in the OP link) as a charlatan who lacks the scientific insight to know what he is talking about, he’s more of a novelist than anything else. Shalmanese hits the nail on the head:

Here is a point:counterpoint argument between Drexler and Rick Smalley that appeared in C&E News a while back: link
Smalley won the nobel prize in chemistry for his part in the discovery of fullerenes. He gives Drexler a lesson in the realities of nanotechnology, from a chemist’s perspective.

I bet they aren’t saying those things too loudly while the NSF grants continue to roll in ;).

Point taken. Nanotech is not magictech. Now, I believe that carbon nanotubes are ALREADY in use in some applications, with more coming down the pike. My suspicion is that there will be some exciting breakthroughs like unto the carbon nanutubes in the next few years which will product technological advances that will be great indeed. What they’ll be and where they’ll come from I have no idea, though I think as soon as we can get a cancer-eating and/or fat-devouring nanomachine (organic or otherwise) that can be controlled in some way we are going to have a MAJOR hit on our hands.

You guys are looking at this like folks who saw the Wright Brothers first flight and are assessing its potential based on that. :stuck_out_tongue: The OP asked about the implications of nanotech in the future…not what we can do now or in the short term. No, its not magictech, no we don’t have all the answers to the questions Shalmanese asks (and one’s s/he didn’t)…but then when the Wright Brothers put their first powered plane in the sky they didn’t have the answers either. Looking back at the predictions of folks (the implications of airtravel and air transport if you would) there is no way anyone could predict things like jet aircraft using computers and fly by wire technology, no way folks could predict satelites and trips to the moon, probes to Mars, etc, or planes that can fly not only faster than the speed of sound but many times faster.

Live a little guys…let your hair down. :wink:



mswas, you might be interested in some science-fictional treatments of a nanotech future. I recommend:

The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson –

Nanodreams – short-story anthology edited by Elton Elliot –

I note some conflation/confusion in this thread between nanotech and brain-computer interfaces and artificial intelligence. How would nanotech make BCI or AI more practical?

No confusion here…I’m freely speculating and simply WAGging to beat the band. I’ve read some SciFi that talks about nanotech used as neuro-interfaces that can connect directly into the users brain (and into their entire nervous system as well) as well as connect to what would essentially be a huge scale wireless internet. Assuming for a second that such a beast is possible, then nanotech would be enormously important as it would provide the mechanism to create such an interface in a non-intrusive way (i.e. you wouldn’t have to cut holes in folks heads and limbs a la The Matrix if you could create the ‘net’ WITHIN the body).

I’m trying to recall the name of one of the series that sort of touches on this…it was something March (like March to the Sea or March to the Stars…or perhaps both).

To me its PLAUSABLE that such neural links could be made using nano-tech, and it shows what COULD be a very profound implication of the technology in the far future. We aren’t even scratching the surface of nano-tech yet, and its possible that none of this stuff will ever happen. I most likely won’t be alive to find out, which is kind of a bummer, especially when I’m in free speculation mode as to where this technology COULD be headed.

In the mean time I’ll have to be content with all the cool technology thats just about to explode on us in the very near future…


They laughed at Einstein… and they laughed at bozo the clown. Comparing nanotech to flight is misleading because they are facing different kinds of problems. Nobody knew what problems faced flight and how to solve them. With nanotech, the problems are very precisely known because they’re problems with have with bigger systems, just scaled down.

I’m not saying that the nanotech revolution won’t be spectacular, it most probably will, just not anything like Drexler & Kurzweil&co. envision it.

Evil Captor: nanotech encompasses a whole bunch of things. Nanotubes, while technically nanotech, are probably closer to an extension on traditional chemical engineering than self-replicating bots. A lot of things have been hastily shovelled under the nanotech banner in order to cash in on grant funding.

But your fat busting bots are an example of precisely what is wrong with nanotech. How exactly do you “bust fat”? You pretty much have to burn it which entails releasing a huge amount of energy. So your first attempt at making one roasts someone alive from the inside. So fair enough, you try mark 2 where you limit the rate of growth. Once you’ve reached the right amount of fat burning, you broadcast a message to the bots to tell them to stop replicating and start burning. Except, oops, in 2% of the nanobots, the antenna broke and they still continue to replicate, another person roasted alive. At this point, people are getting rather leery of being test subjects.

Resistance is futile. Prepare to be assimilated.

Why do you have to burn in QUICKLY? Suppose you burned someone’s fat at a rate just over what they consumed. They would lose weight over a period of weeks or months, with little or no internal heating. And why do they have to burn the fat to get rid of it. If we are talking machined nanoengines, they could literally mine the fat and dump it out a port created in the skin by the nanotubes. The nanoengines mine the fat (I’m sure there’s a more elegant approach than this, but I’m just WAGging here), transport it to the shunt, which dumps it in a big plastic biowaste tub that you either set out for disposal or use to make candles. Your call.

Sure there’s potential for things to go wrong, but people at the far end of the obesity scale are at enough risk to make the game worth the candle, so to speak. It’ll be like the testing for any medical procedure/drug. First you do it on the scum of the earth … convicts, college students and the overweight. Then when the bugs are all worked out, you use it on regular people.

lol…sure, they actually talk about that too in the book/series I mentioned. Of course if you WERE going to make such a thing widely available (and I’m not sure how you’d stop it if it was possible to do) you’d need to have some pretty hefty security involved to protect folks from getting ‘hacked’.

At any rate, I was just speculating on how you COULD make a BCI using nano-tech (I have some thoughts about distributed neural-netword quantum computers using nano-tech for the AI part that are just as wild). Even if we someday get the ability doesn’t mean we WILL do it. There may be the same resistance to such a beast as to stem cell research or cloning of humans today.

How cool would it be though to be able to tap into the worlds knowledge banks, send and receive voice, video and data, hold discussions like this one or interact in other ways with folks throughout the world, research, play VR type MMORPG games (or any other kind of game)…all in your head? :stuck_out_tongue:


Why burn it at all for that matter? Perhaps you create nano-bots that use fat as a fuel (or organic nano machines). They could even be dual purpose so that they extract fat while doing something else…and they only extract fat until some set level is reached (say 20% body fat), after that they go dormant. Or, like you said, they could ‘mine’ it, basically a nano-bot would ‘grab’ a fat molecule and then simply leave the body as waste, taking the fat with them. You could go in for a one time treatment, injecting X number of nano-fat miners that would extract Y amount of fat.


If you want to get fat out of your body, why would nanobots be preferable to liposuction?

I consider good old-fashioned soap as the original nano-machine.

Several reasons. Liposuction is an invasive, risky surgical procedure. Nanobots would be relatively safe. Also, nanobots’ ability to remove fat slowly over time would allow the body to adjust as the fat goes away … no baggy skin, etc. And nanobot treatments need not be one-time … as xtisme mentioned, they could be set to go dormant until the percentage of body fat rises above certain levels, then get rid of the fat again, thus meaning you take the nanobot treatment and you are no longer obese once the initial fat disposal takes place, for the rest of your life, no matter what you eat.

They could also mine that nasty stuff of artery walls that causes heart disease.

I’ve written a story (Karg) about a woman in the far future whose body has been engineered to have a built in nano-based computer system called a “nanoset” which keeps her fit and healthy and gives her access to various datasets stored in the nanocomputer and also lets her communicate with others within range of the built-in nanoset wireless broadband she also has. Basically, she has a computer built in to her body. Very handy. Oh, and it also functions as a parallel nervous system that can allow her to move at 5-10 times normal speed for short periods of time.

Pretty much what Evil Captor said. Lipo is an invasive proceedure and its a manual process (i.e. you get fat, you go to the doctor, they take the fat out…rinse repeat). With nanobots (as envisioned) it would be an automated proceedure, sort of an expert system in computers that monitors certain levels throughout the body and then takes corrective steps automatically when some threshold is reached (say when your body fat goes over X%, or when your blood pressure reaches X, or when your insulin levels are Y, etc etc). If the body was damaged they could be used to begin the healing process and pain relief (at a vastly accelerated rate). They could even check DNA and make repairs to any that becomes damaged. They could basically make old age a thing of the past. All this is theoretical of course and highly speculative…but again, the OP was asking for the implications, not the present reality. You guys need to think outside the box. :wink: