Nanotechnology may be able to create many new materials and devices with a vast range of applications, such as in nanomedicine, nanoelectronics, biomaterials energy production, and consumer products. On the other hand, nanotechnology raises many of the same issues as any new technology, including concerns about the toxicity and environmental impact of nanomaterials, and their potential effects on global economics, as well as speculation about various doomsday scenarios. These concerns have led to a debate among advocacy groups and governments on whether special regulation of nanotechnology is warranted.
As with every innovation in this new era of great invention, there are pathways that enhance humanity, and those that diminish it. The major challenge for society in the next two decades is managing these pathways so that we realize the possibilities in human development, while mitigating the risk of unintended consequences. I described this phenomenon when I wrote about balancing the Opposing Forces of Innovation. Nanotechnology is an interesting case study. As described by Wikipedia, innovation in this area represents these opposing forces. This recent Article explores the technology’s opportunity to advance our humanity. Author Trevor English describes advancements in nanobots (nanorobotics), which is an emerging technology field creating machines or robots whose components are at or near the scale of a nanometer.
By 2030, nanobots are projected to advance towards amazing breakthroughs in healthcare. By then, tiny nanobots will float through our bloodstream on a mission to prevent sickness. The technology is already being tested in animals, where nanobots are set out to destroy cancer cells. Per the article, there are several other benefits expected: ” Researchers believe that nanobots could soon deliver drugs to humans with a high degree of accuracy. This would allow for delivery of micro dosages right where the patient needs them, and could help prevent harmful side effects.” Can we eliminate the common cold by the next decade? Theoretically, true prevention and prediction is possible via these nanobots. They could be used to monitor our body for maladies and other symptoms, while transmitting information to a cloud for close monitoring by medical staff.
Some even believe that one day in the future, we will connect our brains to the cloud. Imagine a time when you need information, and your thoughts bring that information directly to your brain. What are the societal implications? On one level, invention is likely to reach heights never realized in human history. Advancement of knowledge has driven human development through the centuries. Immediate access to knowledge combined with advancements in artificial intelligence could usher in the greatest inventions we have ever seen. Our world challenges could be resolved through innovations enabled by abundant knowledge. But the balancing act is tricky. What happens if the Cloud has access to our brains? Here is the vision as described by Futurist Ray Kurzweil:
“The scenario that I have is that we will send medical nanorobots into our bloodstream. One application of these medical nanorobots will be to extend our immune systems. … These robots will also go into the brain and provide virtual and augmented reality from within the nervous system rather than from devices attached to the outside of our bodies. The most important application of the medical nanorobots is that we will connect the top layers of our neocortex to synthetic neocortex in the cloud.”
Kurzweil has consistently seen the end of this decade as the time horizon for realization of many of his predictions. While he has an impressive track record, a lot must happen for a scenario like this to become reality. Not the least of which is society’s willingness to embrace these innovations.