The ever-expanding universe of the forecasted fate of my blog. (huh?)
Or at least how my focus has centered on one of my predictions based on my research…
The week 9 and 10 activity/project for expanding my predictions includes many of the blogged topics we have covered in CS855 Socio-Technical Futuring (now, Futuring and Innovation). But specifically, I will be introducing Nanotechnology and how I believe the future of very many processes, systems, and manufactured items will be touched by this exciting new frontier. In the old TV series, Star Trek, William Shatner (Captain James T. Kirk) of the starship Enterprise would always narrate the story at the beginning for each episode and explain how “…Space…is the final frontier…”; if (outer) Space is the final frontier, then I propose that (inner) Space is the next closest thing—if we are to truly reach out and explore new worlds in our galaxy and beyond, we must first expand our knowledge of how our inner space works through this new science of Nanotechnology…
Nanotechnology is an emerging and promising field of research, loosely defined as the study of functional structures with dimensions in the 1-1000 nanometer range. (Rice 2007) Certainly, many organic chemists have designed and fabricated such structures for decades via chemical synthesis. During the last decade, however, developments in the areas of surface microscopy, silicon fabrication, biochemistry, physical chemistry, and computational engineering have converged to provide remarkable capabilities for understanding, fabricating and manipulating structures at the atomic level.
Research in nanoscience is exploding, both because of the intellectual allure of constructing matter and molecules one atom at a time, and because the new technical capabilities permit creation of materials and devices with significant societal impact. The rapid evolution of this new science and the opportunities for its application promise that Nanotechnology will become one of the dominant technologies of the 21st century. “Nanotechnology represents a central direction for the future of chemistry that is increasingly interdisciplinary and ecumenical in application.”(Rice 2007)
There seem to be three distinct “nanotechnologies” or fields of Nanotechnology:
1. "Wet" Nanotechnology, which is the study of biological systems that exist primarily in a water environment. The functional nanometer-scale structures of interest here are genetic material, membranes, enzymes and other cellular components. The success of this Nanotechnology is amply demonstrated by the existence of living organisms whose form, function, and evolution are governed by the interactions of nanometer-scale structures.
2. "Dry" Nanotechnology, which derives from surface science and physical chemistry, focuses on fabrication of structures in carbon (for example, fullerenes and nanotubes), silicon, and other inorganic materials. Unlike the "wet" technology, "dry" techniques admit use of metals and semiconductors. The active conduction electrons of these materials make them too reactive to operate in a "wet" environment, but these same electrons provide the physical properties that make "dry" nanostructures promising as electronic, magnetic, and optical devices. Another objective is to develop "dry" structures that possess some of the same attributes of the self-assembly that the wet ones exhibit.
3. Computational Nanotechnology, which permits the modeling and simulation of complex nanometer-scale structures. The predictive and analytical power of computation is critical to success in Nanotechnology: nature required several hundred million years to evolve a functional "wet" Nanotechnology; the insight provided by computation should allow us to reduce the development time of a working "dry" Nanotechnology to a few decades, and it will have a major impact on the "wet" side as well.
This aspect of Nanotechnology is where my prediction for this project falls into—See Making Information Technology Available to All below.
Most importantly, these three nanotechnologies are highly interdependent. The major advances in each have often come from application of techniques or adaptation of information from one or both of the others.
Some of the key Nanotechnology Challenges being addressed are:
- Providing Renewable Clean Energy
Balancing humanity’s energy demands while protecting the environment is a major challenge. Nanotechnology will help to solve the dilemma of energy needs and limited planetary resources through more efficient generation, storage and distribution.
- Supplying Clean Water Globally
The demand for fresh water is increasing. Experts have predicted that considering the current rate of consumption and projected population growth, some two-thirds of the world will be affected by drought by the year 2050. Nanotechnology can help solve this problem through improved water purification and filtration.
- Improving Health and Longevity
Humans are living longer lives, yet infectious diseases and cancer continue to kill millions annually. Again experts have predicted that because of an aging population there could be a 50% increase of new cancer cases by the year 2020. Nanotechnology will enhance the quality of life for human beings through medical diagnostics, drug delivery and customized therapy.
- Healing and Preserving the Environment
As a set of fundamental technologies that cuts across all industries, nanotech can benefit the environment in a wide variety of ways. Stronger, lighter-weight materials in transportation can reduce fuel use, nano-structured fibers reduce staining and therefore laundering, and low-cost nanosensors will make pollution monitoring affordable. In the longer term, manufacturing processes using productive nanosystems should be able to build our products with little if any waste.
- Maximizing Productivity of Agriculture
Pressure on the world's food sources is ever increasing while harvests have fallen short in recent years. It is anticipated (those experts again…) that our world population will swell to 8.9 billion by the year 2050 putting even greater demands on agriculture. Precision farming, targeted pest management and the creation of high yield crops are a few nanotech solutions.
- Making Information Technology Available To All
Experts agree that humanity will need to cooperate as we respond to disasters and critical threats to our survival. A "planetary nervous system" fostering rapid communication and cross-cultural relationships is needed. Nanotechnology applications in electronics will increase access through reduced cost and higher performance of memory, networks, processors and components.
This is the very point of impact that I am predicting that my classmates will have a significant role in fulfilling. In my predictions/forecasts within my blogs, I predicted that Ted Vera, Steve Chadwick, Michelle Hammonds, or Alex Probst (who began the DCS#1 class but transferred to another University) will have significant input into a new solution to Nanotech, possibly a new Nano-Language for programming computers, devices, or other such Nanotechnology instruments.
Predictions about Predictions
People are always asking consultants to make predictions.
Should we be wise and silent, or attempt to accommodate them?
People especially crave predictions about their financial and emotional futures. Which stocks will grow? Will I be happy? Which companies will fold? What jobs will be best? Will I find love? What should they study to prepare for their future jobs? What products will sell?
Predictions are difficult.
…Well, no, predictions are actually easy—many people are ready to throw in “their two cents” -- unless you want some semblance of accuracy.
As Gerald M. Weinberg (consultant and author on consulting) has put it: “Since I'd feel responsible if I hurt somebody with a poor prediction, I seldom accept their invitation to predict.” I must agree with him and decline to predict as a general principle.
In Mr. Weinberg’s blog, he recounts how book publishers predicted his book’s failures if they would but choose to print it on several occasions. In one instance the publisher took pains to expound on why they were predicting failure “…I first sent it to the company that had published all my previous books without hesitation. Here's what they said: "It just is not worthwhile pushing this project any further. It may be that the concept is good ... but the style and breadth of presentation is just not suitable. It could be that a major overhaul and rewrite will result in a marketable project. On the other hand, it may be wiser to forget the book concept entirely...”
He continues “…The book was not overhauled, nor rewritten, but it was turned down by another publisher before it finally found a home. It's now been in print for more than 30 years, and has sold over 100,000 copies in English, and many more in other languages. For the company that eventually published it, The Psychology of Computer Programming sold more copies and made more money than the next five books (published) in their line…”
Weinberg adds, “…in retrospect, the two publishers who declined the project proved not to have much (successful) predictive power.” We couldn’t agree more!
Patrick Henry once said, "I have but one lamp to guide my life. I only know the future from the past."
So, if the past can be used to make predictions, what predictions can we make using past predictions as a guide?
- Publishers will be wrong?
- The world is flat?
· "I think there is a world market for maybe five computers."
- Thomas Watson, chairman of IBM, 1943
- "Computers in the future may weigh no more than 1.5 tons."
- Popular Mechanics, 1949
· "I have traveled the length and breadth of this country and talked with the best people, and I can assure you that data processing’s is a fad that won't last out the year."
- The editor in charge of business books for Prentice-Hall, 1957
· "But what...is it good for?"
- Engineer at the Advanced Computing Systems Division of IBM, 1968, commenting on the microchip
· "There is no reason anyone would want a computer in their home."
- Ken Olson, president, chairman and founder of DEC
· "So we went to Atari and said, 'Hey, we've got this amazing thing, even built with some of your parts, and what do you think about funding us? Or we'll give it to you. We just want to do it. Pay our salary; we'll come work for you.' And they said, 'No.' So then we went to Hewlett-Packard, and they said, 'Hey, we don't need you. You haven't got through college yet.'"
- Steve Jobs, cofounder of Apple Computer
· "Indeed, it would not be an exaggeration to describe the history of the computer industry for the past decade as a massive effort to keep up with Apple."
- Byte, December 1994
…You’re welcome, Ted Vera—from Matt.
One further thing to remember about forecasting and predictions as Dr. William E. Halal reminded us “Many of the items (predictions on future technology) may seem like science fiction, but as the great scientist Arthur C. Clarke said: ‘Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic’ (Profiles of the Future, 1961 – Clarke’s third law).” Some test huh?
I’m not going “out there” as Dr. Halal and the 2005 BT Technology timeline did (see similar predictions here), however here are some that I’m willing to make (some even have dates to qualify my success/failure):
- I feel that Computational grids (including CPU Scavenging grids) which focuses primarily on computationally-intensive operations, or -- the controlled sharing and management of large amounts of distributed data will come into personal computing usage in the mainstream (not just reserved for large companies anymore).
- Computers will not replace humans with complex problem-solving skills since humans use logic mixed with illogic (mainly due to their human perspective and experiences) to create success. Note: this one is contrary to the 205 BT technology timeline that predicts “Expert systems surpass average human learning and logic abilities – 2011-2015”
- Computers will control basic functions such as self-monitoring of simple systems (communication, comfort, entertainment, facilities) and some self-maintenance in homes widespread globally in civilized countries by 2025.
- People will have more personal computers (in their homes, cars, and clothing) than televisions by 2020. Remember the movie “Back to the Future” when the 50’s family flatly stated that “nobody has two TVs”?
- A “new” major computer programming language (or perhaps a NanoLanguage) will emerge prior to 2030 that will replace many of the older languages. I expect Ted Vera, Steve Chadwick, Alex Probst, or Michelle Hammonds to be involved in this project somehow…
- New ways will be invented to harness the power of the human brain using some type of technology or devices (e.g. Nanotechnology). In the 2005 BT technology timeline, they refer to this as “Brain add-on’s” and I agree with them, although I believe we will see them prior to (at least one decade sooner than) the forecasted 2030’s date.
Check back often to see what others are saying about these!
- Enabling Space Development
Heavy demands on resources and raw materials are creating challenges on earth, whereas these items are plentiful in space. Current obstacles to developing space are cost, reliability, safety, and performance. Nanotechnology will solve these through improved fuels, smart materials, uniforms and environments.
In fact, there may not be a single industry that will not be changed by nanotechnological applications. Be it a tennis racquets or long-lasting nanoparticle tennis balls. A foot warmers, athlete skin care or a ski wax.
Nanotechnology today, is progressing towards the delivery system for anti-cancer drugs at the same time research is going on to develop nanofibre which will help create blood vessels, help in treatment of vascular diseases and in heart surgeries.
The purpose of medical devices and nanorobots traveling through the human body is essentially a positive one of searching out and destroying clusters of cancer cells before they spread. Scientists are also working towards the preparation of injectable nanoparticles that will help as medication for treating alcoholism and other related diseases. Because of this it is also called the “future technology” by some observers.
Furthermore, a lot of money is being invested in this field (as is usually true with any new, promising technology). In 2004,
In terms of techniques for manufacturing “nanoscale” materials, there are two different approaches, bottom up and top down. Figures 1 and 2 give examples of each approach. (SustainPack 2007)
Top-down refers to making nanoscale structures by machining and etching techniques, whereas bottom-up, or "molecular Nanotechnology," applies to building organic and inorganic structures atom-by-atom, or molecule-by-molecule.
Figure 1 Top-Down Manufacturing
Figure 2 Bottom-Up Manufacturing
"Molecular manufacturing will eventually transform our relationship to molecules and matter as thoroughly as the computer changed our relationship to bits and information. It will enable precise, inexpensive control of the structure of matter."
— Neil Jacobstein, Chairman, IMM (Institute for Molecular Manufacturing 2007)
As with any developing technology, there will undoubtedly be actual and perceived risks and since we’re dealing with ourselves (humans) -- associated fear, there is a seemingly urgent requirement to constructively and proactively debate these now, rather than wait until polarized views have developed any further—which are likely to damage any further advances in the technology. It seems likely that although there is much political (and scientific) support for Nanotechnology, a repeat performance of the handling of Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs) use in agriculture—should be avoided at any cost. Although, according to Dr. Halal’s TechCast group, there is a growing acceptance or trend towards acceptance of GMOs (see this article for more Tull-TechCast.org 2007)
Therefore, thorough risk assessments of the advancements in Nanotechnology should almost be as important as the technology itself. For example, it is envisioned that it may be important to assess whole lifecycles via Life Cycle Analysis or development tools, in order to evaluate the net benefits for environmental improvements. Such evaluations will be required to ensure there is not an increase in burden further down the supply chain, in disposal etc.
The technical challenges should by no means be underestimated. They comprise the following:
- Scaling up from lab to industrial capabilities.
- Understanding the properties involved with nano materials.
- Converting the science into application.
Herein is where my prediction takes place at this level. The application of the science of Nanotechnology will be driven by pioneers already in the field as well as newly formed experts and think tank type organizations who are willing to use agile methodologies and yet-to-be-discovered processes and languages for programming the tools, hardware and software that will enable these bold new endeavors to flourish. This is where my prediction comes into play—Ted Vera, Steve Chadwick, Michelle Hammonds, or Alex Probst (who began the DCS#1 class but transferred to another University) will have significant input (if not a patented new technology) into a new solution to Nanotech, possibly a new Nano-Language for programming computers, devices, or other such Nanotechnology instruments by the year 2030.
(No pressure though gang!)
- Regulating, standardizing, classifying and risk managing round out the list of the technical challenges.
Indeed, if we are to reach out to the Stars as we imagined Captain Kirk and his brave crew actually did, then we must first master our inner-space and the very building blocks of matter, through the ever-shrinking world of Nanotechnology (at least, that’s what I’m forecasting for the future!)
Hinkle, Matthew. Blog entry “My latest predictions—fodder for the foolish?”. Retrieved from http://profhinkle.blogspot.com/2007/09/my-latest-predictions-fodder-for.html September 6, 2007.
Institute for Molecular Manufacturing Website, homepage. Retrieved from http://www.imm.org/ September 6, 2007.
Nano Science and Technology Consortium Website, “Application of Nanotechnology”. Retrieved from http://www.nstc.in/NTBenefits.aspx September 6, 2007.
Rice. 2007. The Richard E. Smalley Institute for NanoScale Science and Technology at
SustainPack Website, “What is Nanotechnology?”. Retrieved from http://www.sustainpack.com/Nanotechnology.html September 6, 2007.
Tull, Whitney. 2006. TechCast Report on Genetically Manufactured Organisms “Why Do People Fear or Accept Genetically Modified Foods?” retrieved from http://www.techcast.org/fup/articles/060705165246TC%20GMF.pdf September 6, 2007.