Brilliant Minds forecast nanotechnology

Over at, they’ve collected the 50-year forecasts of 70 “brilliant” scientists. Topics covered include nanotechnology and the control of physical matter, machine intelligence, and life extension. Here are a few excerpts:

Peter Atkins, a Fellow and professor of chemistry at Oxford, on nanobio and synthetic life:

Computers will continue to illuminate chemistry. It is possible to foresee a time when the details of reactions can be observed, computed and displayed as moving images on an attosecond timescale for molecules as big as enzymes and DNA. The challenge then will be to use this detailed knowledge of the mechanisms of natural life and our ever-increasing skill at controlling reactions to build synthetic life.

Nathan Myhrvold, former CTO of Microsoft, on nanotechnology:

In recent years researchers have used nanotechnology and quantum mechanics to engineer a new class of materials bearing a far richer internal structure. Some of these metamaterials can perform feats that would have seemed miraculous a few decades ago…The greatest impacts of these materials, though, are likely to come from inventions that no one has thought of yet.

Bill Joy, venture capitalist and former Chief Scientist at Sun Microsystems, on nanotech for energy:

The most significant breakthrough would be to have an inexhaustible source of safe, green energy that is substantially cheaper than any existing energy source. Ideally such a source would be safe, in that it couldn’t be made into weapons, nor would it make hazardous or toxic waste or CO2. It seems to me that this is most likely to come from a deep new understanding of a physical effect at the nanoscale (or smaller) that allows safe and simple access to fusion – or another completely unexpected energy technology.

Frank Wilczek, MIT physicist who won the 2004 Nobel Prize in Physics, on AI via nanotech:

At present, information processing is mainly based on manipulating electrons in two dimensions. We’ll augment our power by bringing in light and electron spin as information carriers within three-dimensional, self-assembling structures. After that machines with superhuman intelligence will become common.

Francis Collins, director of the U.S. National Human Genome Research Institute, on life extension:

Genomic research will prove key to discovering how to reprogram the mechanisms that control the balance between the cell growth that causes cancer and the cell death that leads to ageing. It is possible that a half-century from now, the most urgent question facing our society will not be “How long can humans live?” but “How long do we want to live?”

So, among our brilliant minds we’re hearing, for 2056: synthetic life; cheap, clean energy; superhuman machine intelligence; and indefinite human lifespans. These all sound plausible to me — as mentioned here before, fifty years is a long time in technology.

Many readers of this blog will still be around to see these developments as they arrive. (More of you will be than you might think — reaching 100 will not be as rare then as it is now.) It might be a good idea to stay on top of the situation and even help steer it. Here’s how. Say that Nanodot sent you.

Here in the U.S. we are heading into a long holiday weekend, so Nanodot will be back on Monday. Meanwhile, Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it. If you don’t, you might enjoy starting: it’s a non-sectarian joyful celebration involving delicious food, family & friends, and almost no commercialism. And while we’re giving thanks: I give thanks to you, Nanodot readers, for your interest in nanotechnology and support for Foresight’s work. —Christine

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