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Molecular nanotech: So long, scarcity, hello healthier, longer lives
Dick Pelletier   Jun 11, 2013   Ethical Technology  

Whether you believe it, or think it’s just too bizarre to be true, this most hyped science of all time – molecular nanotech – promises a utopian future with scarcity-free lifestyles for everyone on the planet; and healthcare miracles that could one day push human lifespan to the edge of immortality.


    To achieve this remarkable future, scientists must first create a tiny microscopic-size tool called a fabricator that can grasp individual atoms and molecules and form them into objects. Futurists at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology believe the first fabricators could be developed by early 2020s.

    The next step is to build a Star Trek-like replicator called a nanofactory with billions of fabricators inside. These in-home machines guided by Internet-delivered software, will select atoms from supplied chemicals or household waste products and turn them into essentials, like food, medicine, clothing, or appliances. Watch this video of a nanofactory arranging blocks of atoms to create a state-of-the-art laptop computer.

    Nanofactories will eventually replace most human labor in manufacturing, making consumer goods more plentiful and much cheaper, while raising quality levels. On voice command, requested products would exit the machine in minutes. Think Star Trek's Captain Picard, "Computer; tea, Earl Grey, hot."

    Even Third World families will find nanofactories affordable as these machines can copy themselves at little-to-no cost. In Revolutionary Wealth, Alvin and Heidi Toffler argue that we are on the verge of a post-scarcity time that will alleviate most of today's poverty. Supporting this view, futurist Steve Burgess in a recent blog predicts that in the 2030s, nanofactories will launch an unprecedented era of global wealth.

    Though low cost goods will reduce poverty, the best use for molecular nanotech may lie in medicine.

    Most sickness, injury, and stress can be traced to cell issues; but today's doctors cannot treat individual cells. In addition, many current medical techniques carry bad side effects. Surgery saves lives, but it also causes trauma. Chemotherapy kills cancer, but healthy cells are destroyed; and the cancer often returns.

    Enter molecular nanotech. Today, doctors are injecting nanoparticles that target and destroy cancer cells without harming other tissues. In fact, after seeing nanotech's huge potential, a former NCI director predicted that all cancer deaths would be eliminated by 2015. It may not be cured by then, he said, but new drugs will be available to end most of the suffering, pain, and death that cancer now dishes out.

    Forward thinkers believe that among the first products produced in nanofactories will be tiny medical nanorobots; with gears, sensors, motors, gripping tools, onboard computers, and propulsion systems, as imagined here. Tomorrow's doctors will use these computerized nanowonders as "cell repair" machines.

    "You enter a wellness center complaining of a fever. Instead of a pill or shot, the doctor injects tiny nanorobots seamlessly through the skin into your bloodstream where the clever ‘bots immediately travel to the appropriate cells delivering a lethal dose of medicine directly to the infected area."

    The above scenario may sound like something out of a sci-fi tale, but experts predict nanorobotics will one day turn this fantasy into reality. In a Futurist Magazine article, nanotech pioneer Robert Freitas describes a procedure for a type of medical nanorobot called a chromallocyte. This robot would extract chromosomes from a diseased cell and insert new ones in their place.

    These procedures will not only repair damages caused by aging; but would also eradicate any disease that might cause death. Get ready to enjoy an indefinite lifespan.

    Doctors would use nanorobots to correct problems like heart disease, cancer, and damages suffered from normal aging processes; and direct them to strengthen and enhance the body. These creations would restore bones, muscles, eyesight, and teeth to a more youthful state, keeping us forever young.

    Experts predict these procedures could appear in clinical trials in developed countries by as early as mid-2030s or before, and will be available for the rest of the world shortly after. Futuristic? Certainly. Possible? Absolutely. Considering that life itself is, in a sense, the ultimate example of nanotech, the possibilities seem almost endless. Comments welcome.

Dick Pelletier was a weekly columnist who wrote about future science and technologies for numerous publications. He passed away on July 22, 2014.

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