Nanotechnology in Mercury News

Gina Miller (
Sat, 6 Nov 1999 10:51:22 -0800

Forward Dave Farber:

>From: Tee Toth-Fejel <>
>Another excellent article from Dan Gillmor at
>He called me smart and talented! Imagine that! :-)
>The only thing of note that he missed was the release of Robert Freitas new
>book "Nanomedicine", which I suspect is destined to become a classic.
>Check out to get a
>small hint of what nanotechnology is about.
>Nanotechnology: from science fiction to fact
>Mercury News Technology Columnist
>WHAT if we could manipulate atoms or molecules, one by one, and put them
>together in precise patterns of our choosing?
>Well, consider a 747-sized airplane weighing 5 percent of the current model
>but just as sturdy as the original craft. Or data-processing power equal to
>millions of today's desktop computers in a box the size of a PC. Or a
>machine so small it could individually find and repair damaged human cells.
>This is the promise of molecular manufacturing and nanotechnology, a
>extension of current trends that will surely revolutionize materials
>and could effectively redefine much of our environment, if not our very
>lives. From science fiction a generation ago, nanotechnology is moving
>squarely into the heart of plain old science.
>I raise the subject because some smart, talented people are gathering in
>Silicon Valley today through Sunday to discuss the state of the science at
>the Palo Alto-based Foresight Institute's annual Conference on Molecular
>Nanotechnology. While the papers being delivered represent high-end
>about the physical potential of this emerging field, the conversations will
>also inevitably move into metaphysical planes as well, because molecular
>engineering raises massive legal, economic, ethical and even moral
>K. Eric Drexler is chairman of the Institute (, a
>non-profit organization. (I've donated a small amount of money.) He's also
>the author of many articles and several books on nanotechnology, including
>the pathbreaking 1986 volume, ``Engines of Creation.''
>Drexler is first to acknowledge that the idea of nanotechnology didn't leap
>from his brain. Perhaps the greatest visionary on the subject was the late
>Richard Feynman, among the great physicists of the 20th century. In 1959
>Feynmann proposed building matter molecule by molecule, or even atom by
>atom. (A highlight of the conference, being held in Santa Clara, will be
>announcement of the winner of this year's Feynman Prize in nanotechnology.)
>Molecular manufacturing and nanotechnology are about miniaturization. When
>we can manipulate individual molecules, even atoms, we can create new (or
>least better) materials. But we will also be able to create the tiniest
>machines that could do all kinds of things we can't even consider today,
>some of those tiny nano-machines will create more versions of themselves in
>preparation for building something bigger.
>Some of the most intriguing, and certain to be controversial, uses of
>nanotechnology will be in the medical arena. The ability of tiny machines
>repair damaged cells, among other feats, strongly suggests the potential
>an indefinitely long human life span. The questions this raises are almost
>The more I study this, the more I wonder whether I should follow the
>of some extremely smart people. They've decided that the potential of
>tomorrow's nano-medicines makes it sensible today to be, in effect,
>flash-frozen upon death (a process also known as cryonics), then brought
>back to life in a healthy body and mentally no worse for wear than,
>mild amnesia.
>The notion of an extremely long life span is somewhat worrisome if
>population control matter to you, among a host of moral and ethical issues.
>But if we're to colonize other solar systems -- something I believe
>must do to ensure the survival of the species -- there seems to be little
>There's even a terrestrial benefit, however, as Ralph C. Merkle, a research
>scientist at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center and major booster of
>nanotechnology, observed at a Foresight conference earlier this year. When
>you expect to live indefinitely, he said, you tend to care more about
>protecting the environment.
>Tihamer "Tee" Toth-Fejel Member of Technical Staff
>(734) 623-2544
>Center for Electronic Commerce,
>Environmental Research Institute of Michigan

David Farber
The Alfred Fitler Moore Professor of Telecommunication Systems University of Pennsylvania
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Gina "Nanogirl" Miller