You’ve heard the buzz about nanotechnology. But, what is it and why is it so important? Learn the answers to these questions from this noted physicist. Here’s a teaser:
One of the goals of nanotechnology is to create nanomachines on the scale of living cells–such as proteins, DNA, or bacteria–and design them to perform equally complex tasks. These miniature mechanical devices could turn toxic waste into harmless matter, or they could travel through our blood vessels to mend cells from within. The first step toward building these nanomachines is to hack living systems at the molecular level and engineer them to do what we want.
These devices will be smart and autonomous, but just like the viruses and bacteria they are modeled on, they will have the potential to do enormous damage. For example, you may have heard of the scenario of gray goo and how nanobots or assemblers could run the risk of going haywire. In principle, gray goo is a large mass of self-replicating nanomachines that would eventually consume all matter in the galaxy by building copies of themselves, consuming everything in their path. This scenario has been brought into the mainstream by authors such as Michael Crichton, in whose book Prey, bacteria produce chemicals that are modified and then combined to form assemblers The final product gives rise to tiny flying robots. The main character lets a swarm of nanorobots loose into the atmosphere, where they prey on wildlife and replicate themselves along the way. These scenarios are farfetched and the complexities behind developing grey goo are presently beyond the capabilities of science, even though they aren’t ruled out by the laws of physics.