Nanotechnology is the field of study concerned with the manipulation of matter at an atomic and molecular scale. Typically, this involves structures with sizes ranging from 1 to 100 nanometres. It is currently one of the most well-funded areas worldwide. The term was first coined in 1974 by Norio Taniguchi.
The emergence of nanotechnology as a field by itself was the result of the convergence of several lines of work. These include the development of the scanning tunneling microscope by Gerd Binnig and Einrich Rohrer in 1980s, Richard Feynman’s talk “There’s plenty of room at the Bottom” in 1959 and Eric Drexler suggestions of molecular manipulation in the 70s.
The field of nanotechonology has led to the development of a huge amount of new technologies and the improvement of old methods. From drug-delivering systems to electronic chips development, there are nowadays hundreds of available functional applications stemming from this area. Besides the size and mobility advantages of such devices and technologies, the fundamental quantum properties that emerge at nano scales continue to defy researchers to speculate of further developments.
Drexler has proposed, with his molecular nanotechnology, that the field could evolve to exploit more than just this scale properties, this pure nanomaterials research. His suggestions, highly speculative, include research on the ability of developing means of mechanosynthesis—such as having miniature production lines using machines to build structures. This would allow, for example, the precise control of chemical reactions, eliminating the imprecision existing in conventional chemistry.
When discussing the development of Friendly AI, Yudkowsky proposes that the unrestricted access to nanotechnology by an Unfriendly artificial intelligence could have catastrophic results for mankind.
Further Reading & References
Binnig, G.; Rohrer, H. (1986). “Scanning tunneling microscopy”. IBM Journal of Research and Development 30: 4.
“Nanoscience and nanotechnologies: opportunities and uncertainties”. Royal Society and Royal Academy of Engineering. July 2004. Retrieved 13 May 2011.
Allhoff, Fritz; Lin, Patrick; Moore, Daniel (2010). What is nanotechnology and why does it matter?: from science to ethics. John Wiley and Sons. pp. 3–5. ISBN 1-4051-7545-1.
There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom by Richard Feynman