Reading The Small Print

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Eric Drexler stated it well almost two decades ago in his groundbreaking book Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology: “Arranged one way, atoms make up soil, air, and water; arranged another, they make up ripe strawberries. Arranged one way, they make up homes and fresh air; arranged another, they make up ash and smoke. Our ability to arrange atoms lies at the foundation of technology. . . . For all our advances in arranging atoms, we still use primitive methods. With our present technology, we are still forced to handle atoms in unruly herds.” Drexler believes, as do many others, that we stand at the cusp of truly remarkable advances in our ability to operate at the molecular level and herd those “unruly”
atoms with incredible precision.

Control over matter manipulation has triumphed in certain commercial markets, as applications of nanotechnology are already in commerce. Nanoscale zinc oxides are used now in sunscreen lotions and scratch-resistant glass. Nanoscale fibers are used in stain-resistant fabrics. Digital camera displays, high resolution printer inks, and high-capacity computer hard drives are among the commercially available products of nanoscience and nanoengineering. This is plainly just the beginning. Demand for domestic nanomaterials in 2002 was estimated at $200 million and is projected to grow an astonishing 33 percent a year. The National Science Foundation has estimated that nanotechnology applications may be valued at more than $1 trillion in the global economy by 2015.

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