Imagine a world in which cars can be assembled molecule-by-molecule, garbage can be disassembled and turned into beef steaks, and people can be operated on and healed by cell-sized robots. Sound like science fiction? Well, with current semiconductor chip manufacturing encroaching upon the nanometer scale and the ability to move individual atoms at the IBM Almaden laboratory, we are fast approaching the technological ability to fabricate productive machines and devices that can manipulate things at the atomic level. From this ability we will be able to develop molecular-sized computers and robots, which would give us unprecedented control over matter and the ability to shape the physical world as we see fit. Some may see it as pure fantasy, but others speculate that it is an inevitability that will be the beginning of the next technological revolution.
Laboratories, such as the Stanford Nanofabrication Facility (SNF), have already been researching nanofabrication techniques with applications in fiber optics, biotechnology, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), and wide variety of other research fields relevant to today's technology. MEMS, "tiny mechanical devices such as sensors, valves, gears, mirrors, and actuators embedded in semiconductor chips", are particularly interesting because they are but a mere step away from the molecular machines envisioned by nanotechnology. MEMS are already being used in automobile airbag systems as accelerometers to detect collisions and will become an increasing part of our everyday technology.
In 1986, a researcher from MIT named K. Eric Drexler already foresaw the advent of molecular machines and published a book, Engines of Creation, in ...
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...searchers in this field put together an ethical set of guidelines (e.g. Molecular Nanotechnology Guidelines) and follow them, then we should be able to develop nanotechnology safely while still reaping its promised benefits.
Drexler, K. Eric Engines of Creation.
New York: Anchor Books, 1986.
Drexler, K. Eric Unbounding the Future.
New York: Quill, 1991.
Feynman, Richard P. There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom.
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The Foresight Institute.
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Institute for Molecular Manufacturing.
03 March 2002.
National Nanotechnology Initiative.
03 March 2002.
Thibodeau, Patrick. "Nanotech, IT research given boost in Bush budget".
03 March 2002. (April 11, 2001)
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