Time Line

Given our discussion of the various factors affecting the commercialization of nanotechnologies, how do we see them sequencing?

Early Revenue

• Tools and bulk materials (powders, composites). Several revenue-stage and public companies already exist in this category.

• One-dimensional chemical and biological sensors, out-of-body medical sensors and diagnostics.

• Larger MEMS-scale devices.

Medium Term

• Two-dimensional nanoelectronics: memory, displays, solar cells.

• Hierarchically structured nanomaterials and bionano assembly.

• Efficient energy storage and conversion.

• Passive drug delivery and diagnostics, improved implantable medical devices.

Long Term

• Three-dimensional nanoelectronics.

• Nanomedicine, therapeutics, and artificial chromosomes.

• Quantum computers used in small-molecule design.

• Machine-phase manufacturing.

The safest long-term prediction is that the most important nanotech developments will be the unforeseen opportunities, something that we cannot predict.

In the long term, nanotechnology research might ultimately enable miniaturization to a magnitude never before seen and might restructure and digitize the basis of manufacturingsuch that matter becomes code. As with the digitization of music, the importance of this development is not only in the fidelity of reproduction but also in the decoupling of content from distribution. Once a product is digitized, new opportunities arise, such as online music swappingtransforming an industry.

With replicating molecular machines, physical production itself migrates to the rapid innovation cycle of information technology. With physical goods, the basis of manufacturing governs inventory planning and logistics, and the optimal distribution and retail supply chain has undergone little radical change for many decades. Flexible, low-cost manufacturing near the point of consumption could transform the physical goods economy and even change our notion of ownershipespecially for infrequently used objects.

These are profound changes in the manufacturing of everything, changes that will ripple through the fabric of society. The science futurists have pondered the implications of being able to manufacture anything for $1 per pound. And as some of these technologies couple tightly to our biology, it will bring into question the nature and extensibility of our humanity.

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