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Technology and the future


Technology and the future of medicine The promise and perils of nanotechnology Michael T. Woodside National Institute for Nanotechnology and Department of Physics – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Technology and the future

Technology and the future of medicine
The promise and perils of nanotechnology
Michael T. Woodside National Institute for
Nanotechnology and Department of Physics
1. Introduction, definitions, background
2. Promise and peril at the level of science
fiction and hype/doom
3. Constraints on the vision imposed by
scientific realities
4. Specific examples of promising, realistic,
near-term nanotechnology applications
computation with quantum-dot cellular automata
single-molecule tests for drug discovery
4. Specific examples of realistic, near-term
concerns with nanotechnology
What is nanotechnology?
Many possible definitions
Nanoscience is the study of phenomena and
manipulation of materials at atomic, molecular
and macromolecular scales, where properties
differ significantly from those at a larger
Nanotechnologies are the design,
characterisation, production and application of
structures, devices and systems by controlling
shape and size at nanometre scale.
Royal Society (2004) Nanoscience and
nanotechnologies opportunities and
uncertainties http//
Drexler-Merkle differential gear (model), 1995
Richard Feynman Theres plenty of room at the
Address to American Physical Society, 1959
I would like to describe a field, in which little
has been done, but in which an enormous amount
can be done in principle. This field is not
quite the same as the others in that it will not
tell us much of fundamental physics (in the
sense of, "What are the strange particles?") but
it is more like solid-state physics in the sense
that it might tell us much of great interest
about the strange phenomena that occur in complex
situations. Furthermore, a point that is most
important is that it would have an enormous
number of technical applications. What I want
to talk about is the problem of manipulating and
controlling things on a small scale.
I will not now discuss how we are going to do it,
but only what is possible in principle in other
words, what is possible according to the laws of
physics. I am not inventing anti-gravity, which
is possible someday only if the laws are not
what we think. I am telling you what could be
done if the laws are what we think we are not
doing it simply because we haven't yet gotten
around to it.
How do we write small? Information on a small
scale The marvelous biological system Problems of
lubrication and waste heat Rearranging atoms
Popularisation Eric Drexler
Inspired by Feynman, molecular biology
Influenced by ideas of limits to growth in
a finite world
Controversial reception in scientific community
Drexler-Smalley debates 2001-2003
Impact on public perception
Nanotechnology Promise
Many possibilities have been conceived
  • New materials with enhanced properties
    strength, durability, functionality,

invisibility cloak
carbon nanotube space elevator
coloured nanoparticles
Nanotechnology Promise
Many possibilities have been conceived
Quantum computers
wirelessly networked nanosensors
Assemble anything from atomic constituents
Combination with AI swarm of intelligent computat
Use quantum wierdness to solve intractable
molecular nanotechnology
Also energy storage, transmission, ...
Nanotechnology Promise
Many possibilities have been conceived
Medical nanobots
  • Drug delivery
  • Distributed sensing and real-time monitoring
  • Enhanced physical capabilities strength,
  • endurance,
  • Enhanced immune system
  • Cure diseases in real-time
  • Interface with neurons expand
  • mental capabilities
  • Cellular repair

Combine with AI and synthetic biology
  • Longevity

The motivation for molecular nanotechnology
1. Biology provides proof of the feasibility of
nanotechnology, supplies a fully functional model
2. Structures that are able to self-replicate
exist in Nature
3. Nanoscale machines do not violate any laws of
physics, in principle
4. We can conceive of bottom-up fabrication,
even starting from the atomic level
5. Structures where atoms are arranged precisely
exist in Nature
Hence we should be able to build nanoscale,
self-replicating, programmable assemblers
capable of manufacturing arbitrary objects from
atomic constituents
The basic concept
Molecular nanotechnology Thorough,
inexpensive control of the structure of matter
based on molecule-by-molecule control of products
and byproducts of molecular manufacturing.
Unbounding the Future, Drexler et al., 1991
Based on
The concept of the molecular assembler pick up
and manipulate atoms, establish chemical bonds
between arbitrary atoms
Incorporation of assemblers into self-replicating
Molecular-scale computation, programming, data
storage, and integration
The Promise of Molecular Nanotechnology
Imagine a manufacturing technology capable of
making trillions of tiny machines each the size
of a bacteria. Each machine could contain an
onboard device programmed to control a set of
molecular scale tools and manipulators. An
individual machine could be designed to
manufacture superior materials, convert solar
energy to electricity, or even, ultimately, enter
the body to fight disease and aging at the
cellular and molecular level. Materials hundreds
of times better than todays best materials,
vastly more powerful computers, precise machinery
that doesnt wear out, and a revolution in clean
manufacturing are but a few of the predicted
benefits of applying these new machines. source
Zyvex home page
but many potential dangers lurk!
Nanotechnology Perils
Again, many possibilities have been conceived
New toxic materials, easily spread and hard to
competition from ETC group
Tiny, invisible weapons
Weapons control impossible hard to embargo, hard
to verify
Self-replicating weapons
GI Joe (2009)
Nanotechnology Perils
More insidious dangers
Undetectable and pervasive surveillance
totalitarian nightmare
Neural interfaces thought control/possession
Medical nanobots remote control of health
Consequences of system crashes in enhanced bodies
and minds
Change in the economic basis of society
Nanotechnology Perils
Higher-level dangers
Societal fragility consequences of network
crashes in complex systems run by pervasive
smartdust mesh
Emergent complexity
Swarm intelligence
Nanotechnology Perils
Ultimate nightmare scenarios
Self-replication of assemblers, grey goo
Self-replicating disassemblers
(Un)Fortunately reality intrudes
No obvious way forward for many of the dreams
Simple example carbon nanotubes as ideal
electrical nanowire
  • 1 nm wide
  • up to mm long
  • very low electrical
  • resistance
  • can be metal or
  • semiconductor

Carbon-based electronics!
But 15 years on, still cant grow them to
orderso how can they form the basis of a
technology to replace Si (purity of 99.9999999
is routine)?
(Un)Fortunately reality intrudes
No obvious way forward for many of the dreams
Simple example carbon nanotubes (CNT) as ideal
electrical nanowire
Suppose we could make CNTs to order
circuits would be 10,000- 1,000,000 denser!
  • How do we connect to the
  • outside (macro) world?

Practical problems that are just engineering
but are very hard and have no obvious solution!
  • How do we check that its
  • built properly?

fault-tolerant architectures
(Un)Fortunately reality intrudes
More basically flawed philosophical premise for
molecular nanotechnology
Is it even possible to build today anything that
we can conceive, provided it does not violate
physical laws?
NO And it never has been!
Consider dream of human-powered flight
First human-powered flight, 1977 400 years later
Leonardos ornithopter, 1485
The laws of physics must still be respected
Issues ranging from the mundane to the
  • Heat dissipation as physical size decreases and
    density of components
  • increases, waste heat becomes a problem just as
    in computers today
  • Friction as parts scale down to near-atomic
    dimensions, what acts as
  • a lubricant? How do we control inter-atomic
    interactions so precisely
  • that some atoms stick together whereas others
    slide/move freely?
  • Fluctuations become relatively more important as
    size decreases
  • Quantum phenomena become
  • inescapable at atomic scales
  • wave/particle duality, tunneling,
  • probabilistic vs deterministic
  • behaviour,

Many pieces of basic science missing
Atomic-level control over manufacturing is
Combinations of atoms and geometries are
constrained by properties of elements and
chemical bonding
We cannot make arbitrary structures and
compositions even relatively simple structures
can be very hard to make!
cubane (explosive)
Biology as a template
Biological systems are most effective and
efficient manufacturing systems known
DNA polymerase reliable replication, with error
rate 1 in 10,000,000,000
F1F0 ATP synthase most efficient motor known
Biology as a template
Based on simple processes (e.g.
polymerisation) Create one basic geometry (linear
chains) Rely on self-interactions to generate
functional structures automatically
(self-assembly, folding in biology)
But we still cant reliably predict folding for
known structures after decades of intensive
How do we design, de novo, both novel chemistries
or functions, and the folds protein folds to
achieve them?
Yet another fundamental roadblock heterogeneity
How can one manufacture complex assemblies
efficiently and reliably without uniform, quality
One cant!
As in regular manufacturing, heterogeneity
inhibits complexityneed standardised,
interchangeable parts
Self-assembly is statistical, not deterministic
will always yield mixtures and distributions of
Complex processes with multiple steps need
reliable yield above all
1 step 97 correct yield
20 steps 50 worthless junk!
Digital Computing gt50
Crystal purity 28
IC components 21
DNA replication (with error correction) 18-23
Telescope mirror, large 20
Book typesetting 15
Taq polymerase, PCR optimized 12
Precision machining 12
RNA transcription 9-11
Human typing (without spell checker) 3-5
Microparticle size dispersion 2-4
Nanoparticle size dispersion 2
Polymer dispersion 1-2
JASON 2001
Comparisons of heterogeneity
Boltzmann entropy (disorder)
Shannon entropy (information)
Define generalised negentropy
Taq polymerase optimised PCR
nanoparticle size dispersion
crystal purity
DNA replication
digital computing (gt 50)
polymer dispersion
precision machining
book typesetting
telescope mirror
integrated circuit components
human typing
1. Do it right in the first place
Strong driving force (thermodynamics)
2. Fix it up later
Error correction mechanism (kinetics)
3. Ignore it
Fault-tolerant architectures
What is nanotechnology?
Current areas of research
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Current applications
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