MIT's Technology Review has an article entitled 10 Emerging Technologies That Will Change The World. Here is the summary list of the 10 technologies.
Technologies pinpointed to change the future include glycomics, injectable tissue engineering, molecular imaging, grid computing, wireless sensor networks, software assurance, quantum cryptography, nanoimprint lithography, nano solar energy and mechatronics. For each technology, Technology Review has profiled one researcher or research team whose work exemplifies the field’s possibilities.
Molecular imaging will be greatly helped by quantum dots. Nanotech for solar is important because nanotech manufacturing techniques show promise for huge reductions in manufacturing costs. The biggest factor holding back the widespread use of solar photovoltaics is their cost (yes, energy storage is another problem but nanotech fabrication techniques for batteries and fuel cells will similarly reduce their costs).
Wireless sensor networks have implications for privacy that science fiction writer David Brin has fleshed out in both his non-fiction book The Transparent Society: Will Technology Force Us to Choose Between Privacy and Freedom? and in his fun fiction read Earth. Brin argues advancing technology will make the use of surveillance technologies ubiquitous and that our choice is between just letting only the government watch everyone or letting everyone use surveillance technologies to watch everyone else. I think he's right about this and agree with him that the latter option is preferable.
Here is the more detailed description of each of the technologies. In particular, nanoimprint lithography sounds especially promising as a way to make nanotech device manufacture affordable.
Right now everybody is talking about nanotechnology, but the commercialization of nanotechnology critically depends upon our ability to manufacture,” says Princeton University electrical engineer Stephen Chou.
A mechanism just slightly more sophisticated than a printing press could be the answer, Chou believes. Simply by stamping a hard mold into a soft material, he can faithfully imprint features smaller than 10 nanometers across. Last summer, in a dramatic demonstration of the potential of the technique, Chou showed that he could make nano features directly in silicon and metal. By flashing the solid with a powerful laser, he melted the surface just long enough to press in the mold and imprint the desired features.
Although Chou was not the first researcher to employ the imprinting technique, which some call soft lithography, his demonstrations have set the bar for nanofabrication, says John Rogers, a chemist at Lucent Technologies’ Bell Labs. “The kind of revolution that he has achieved is quite remarkable in terms of speed, area of patterning, and the smallest-size features that are possible. It’s leading edge,” says Rogers. Ultimately, nanoimprinting could become the method of choice for cheap and easy fabrication of nano features in such products as optical components for communications and gene chips for diagnostic screening. Indeed, NanoOpto, Chou’s startup in Somerset, NJ, is already shipping nanoimprinted optical-networking components. And Chou has fashioned gene chips that rely on nano channels imprinted in glass to straighten flowing DNA molecules, thereby speeding genetic tests.
Nanotechnology's big challenge is how to manufacture nanotech devices. Sounds like Chou's technique may be useful for fabrication of a wide range of nanotech devices notably including nanopore DNA sequencers. If Chou's technology only enables the construction of nanopore DNA sequencing devices that alone will make his technology extremely worthwhile. The ability to cheaply do full personal DNA sequencing would allow the collection of data on each person's DNA sequence. As a consequence the efforts to run down what each sequence variation does will be accelerated enormously. In addition to providing valuable information about the causes of almost all types of diseases detailed personal DNA sequence information will affect everything from mating choices to medical insurance to privacy.
There are other approaches to nanotech fabrication involving the use of proteins and biological systems to make nanotech structures that might turn out to be equally or even more promising for nanotech manufacturing in the longer run.
One item that I think should have been on the list is microfluidics. The ability to miniaturize chemical, biochemical, and molecular biological experiments will greatly accelerate the rate of advance of biotechnologies and of chemistry as well.
In terms of life extension and rejuvenation the most important technology on the list is injectable tissue engineering. What is especially needed there is the ability to make youthful non-embryonic stem cells to replenish various non-embryonic stem cell reservoirs in the body. One big challenge to achieve that goal is to understand for each non-embryonic stem cell type exactly what regulatory state its genes are in to make it be differentiated into its particular stem cell type. Non-embryonic stem cells are not pluripotent (i.e. they can not become all cell types) because they are in the various parts of the body to make new cells of particular types that each part needs. It is hard to say just how long it will take to develop sufficient control of cellular genetic regulation to be able to make exactly the kinds of non-embryonic stem cells that are desired for each reservoir type.
Another application of tissue engineering is for the growth of replacement organs. This too will be used for life extension and rejuvenation. Though in cases where injectable stem cells will do the job the stem cells will be preferred because stem cell therapy is a lot easier than surgery.
Another important technology emerging technology that went unmentioned in the MIT list is gene therapy. For many cell types one can't simply replace them when you get older (e.g. your brain!). The ability to do repair in situ is essential. Gene therapy will make this possible many years before nanotech repair bots become workable.
|Share |||Randall Parker, 2003 January 13 02:03 PM Biotech Advance Rates|