Unbounding the Future:
the Nanotechnology Revolution
Some terms used in discussing nanotechnology
and other anticipated technologies:
Assembler: A general-purpose device for molecular manufacturing
capable of guiding chemical reactions by positioning molecules.
Atom: The smallest unit of a chemical element, about
a third of a nanometer in diameter. Atoms make up molecules and
force microscope (AFM): An
instrument able to image surfaces to molecular accuracy by
mechanically probing their surface contours. A kind of proximal
engineering: Engineering design
done by a computer system, generating detailed designs from broad
specifications with little or no human help.
manufacturing: As used here,
nanotechnology-based manufacturing requiring little human labor.
Bacteria: Single-celled microorganisms, about one micrometer
(one thousand nanometers) across.
Bulk technology: Technology in which atoms and molecular are
manipulated in bulk, rather than individually.
pharmacology: Delivery of drugs by
medical nanomachines to exact locations in the body.
Cell surgery: Modifying cellular structures using medical
Cell: A small structural unit, surrounded by a membrane,
making up living things.
Disassembler: An instrument able to take apart structures a few
atoms at a time, recording structural information at each step.
DNA: A molecule encoding genetic information, found in the
protector: A nanomachine for
mechanically removing selected imported species from an ecosystem
to protect native species.
science and technologies: Areas of
research relevant to a particular goal, such as nanotechnology.
Enzymes: Molecular machines found in nature, made of protein,
which can catalyze (speed up) chemical reactions.
engineering: Design and analysis of
systems that are theoretically possible but cannot be built yet,
owing to limitations in available tools.
Gray goo: See Star Trek scenario.
Immune machines: Medical nanomachines designed for internal use,
especially in the bloodstream and digestive tract, able to
identify and disable intruders such as bacteria and viruses.
assembler: Assembler capable of
making only certain products; faster, more efficient, and less
liable to abuse than a general-purpose assembler.
electronics: Any system with
atomically precise electronic devices of nanometer dimensions,
especially if made of discrete molecular parts rather than the
continuous materials found in today's semiconductor devices.
machine: Any machine with
atomically precise parts of nanometer dimensions; can be used to
describe molecular devices found in nature.
manipulator: A device combining a
proximal probe mechanism for atomically precise positioning with
a molecule binding site on the tip; can serve as the basis for
building complex structures by positional synthesis.
manufacturing: Manufacturing using
molecular machinery, giving molecule-by-molecule control of
products and by-products via positional chemical synthesis.
medicine: A variety of
pharmaceutical techniques and therapies in use today.
inexpensive control of the structure of matter based on
molecule-by-molecule control of products and byproducts; the
products and processes of molecular manufacturing, including
recognition: A chemical term
referring to processes in which molecules adhere in a highly
specific way, forming a larger structure; an enabling technology
surgery or molecular repair:
Analysis and physical correction of molecular structures in the
body using medical nanomachines.
systems engineering: Design,
analysis, and construction of systems of molecular parts working
together to carry out a useful purpose.
Molecule: Group of atoms held together by chemical bonds; the
typical unit manipulated by nanotechnology.
Nano-: A prefix meaning one billionth (1/1,000,000,000).
Nanocomputer: A computer with parts built on a molecular scale.
Nanoelectronics: Electronics on a nanometer scale, whether made by
current techniques or nanotechnology; includes both molecular
electronics and nanoscale devices resembling today's
Nanomachine: An artificial molecular machine of the sort made by
Nanomanufacturing: Same as molecular manufacturing.
Nanosurgery: A generic term including molecular repair and cell
Nanotechnology: see Molecular nanotechnology.
synthesis: Control of chemical
reactions by precisely positioning the reactive molecules; the
basic principle of assemblers.
design, protein engineering: The
design and construction of new proteins; an enabling technology
Proximal probes: A family of devices capable of fine positional control
and sensing, including scanning tunneling and atomic force
microscopes; an enabling technology for nanotechnology.
Replicator: A system able to build copies of itself when provided
with raw materials and energy.
Ribosome: A naturally occurring molecular machine that
manufactures proteins according to instructions derived from the
tunneling microscope (STM): An
instrument able to image conducting surfaces to atomic accuracy;
has been used to pin molecules to a surface.
assembler lab: A general-purpose
assembler system in a container permitting only energy and
information to be exchanged with the environment.
materials and products: Here,
materials and products capable of relatively complex behavior due
to the incorporation of nanocomputers and nanomachines. Also used
for products having some ability to respond to the environment.
scenario: Someone builds
potentially dangerous self-replicating devices that spread
reality system: A combination of
computer and interface devices (goggles, gloves, etc.) that
presents a user with the illusion of being in a three dimensional
world of computer-generated objects.
Virus: A parasite (consisting primarily of genetic material)
that invades cells and takes over their molecular machinery in
order to copy itself.