Fads and Hype in Technology The Sargasso Sea of Some Day Soon

Peter Coffee

Is nanotechnology a fad? Prospective investors, or prospective research sponsors, want to knowand it's not too early in the life cycle of the field to ask, and answer, this question. First, though, let's be a little more specific about the ways that nanotechnology might disappoint us.

• It could be another cold fusion, with its germ of potential utility vastly outweighed by its hypeand with fractious scientific infighting scaring capital away to pursue more plausible pathways.

• It could be another synthetic-fuels or bubble-memory scenario, backed by valid science but not economically competitive with established approachesor with their surprisingly long-lived processes of continuing improvement.

• It could be another artificial intelligence, a label that's reasonably defined as what we haven't figured out how to dobecause once we can do it, it's assimilated into computer science, operations research, game theory, or some other respectable discipline.

It's reasonable to wonder whether the concepts that sail together under the "nanotechnology" label are heading for a new world of efficient use of energy and massor whether they're destined to circle indefinitely around a Sargasso Sea of "some day soon."

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