Utility Fog
The Downside


Imagine a world without cell phones, wireless phones, beepers, fax and answering machines, video tape players, cam corders, cable TV, CD audio, Sony Walkmans, microwave ovens, Nintendo, personal computers and the World Wide Web. That was the year 1970, just 30 years ago. It was the age of hand operated analog devices. In the intervening 30 years we have had a rise in personal computer technology through smaller and smaller chips, and extraordinary advances in biotech and genetics. Scientists had begun to think small. In 1980, headlines were made when the IBM logo was spelled out with 35 individual atoms. This was done with a new microscope that could not only image individual atoms, but move them around as well. This one act proved definitively that atoms could be manipulated with precision by human beings.

The door was opened for nanotechnology.

Nano - one billionth (109) part of, as in nanometer. A nanometer is a unit of measure equal to a billionth of a meter. Ten atoms fit side by side in a nanometer.

Hence nanotechnology, the art of manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale to build microscopic devices such as robots, which in turn will assemble individual atoms and molecules into products much as if they were Lego blocks. Nanotechnology is about building things one atom at a time, about making extraordinary devices with ordinary matter.

Nano-Machines All manufactured products are made from atoms. The properties of those products depend on how those atoms are arranged. If we rearrange the atoms in coal we can make diamond. If we rearrange the atoms in sand (and add a few other trace elements) we can make computer chips. If we rearrange the atoms in dirt, water and air we can make potatoes. Presently our handling of the molecular manufacturing process is very crude, we move atoms around in great heaps and pile them together, but we lack the ability to snap them together in a meaningful way. With nanotechnology, we'll be able to snap together the fundamental building blocks of nature easily, inexpensively and in almost any arrangement that we desire. This will be essential if we are to continue the revolution in computer hardware beyond the next decade, and will also let us fabricate an entire new generation of products that are cleaner, stronger, lighter, cheaper, and more precise. Small high frequency robots, (or nanites) will work at the limits of matter processing cheap, abundant components (molecules). By treating atoms as discrete, bit-like objects, molecular manufacturing will bring a digital revolution to the production of material objects.

Now, imagine the world of 2030 (most of us will still be here!). According to the nanotechnology gurus starting 30 years from now we should be taking the first steps toward:

  • Self-assembling consumer goods
  • Computers billions of times faster
  • Extremely novel inventions (impossible today)
  • Safe and affordable space travel
  • Medical Nano... virtual end to illness, aging, death
  • No more pollution and automatic cleanup of already existing pollution
  • Molecular food syntheses... end of famine and starvation
  • Access to a superior education for every child on Earth
  • Reintroduction of many extinct plants and animals
  • Terraforming here and in our Solar System

All of these have profound consequences for medicine, manufacturing, computing, and warfare, and secondary (but possibly equally or more profound) consequences for economics, philosophy, and the way we structure our society.

I shall try to address some of these briefly in this paper.

Introduction | Background | Basics
Nano-Computing | Utility Fog | Nano-Medicine
The Downside | Comments | Sources
Valerie Brownrigg
Telecommunications Class
Santa Rosa Junior College
Section 5294
Spring 2000