In The Examiner, An Army of Davids author Prof. Glenn Reynolds makes nanotechnology one of his four technologies that deserve speeding up:

Nanotechnology — a technology for making and engineering things on the molecular scale — is already a force in many areas, but at the moment it’s mostly a source of high strength materials, sensors, filtration devices, and the like.

It’s even beginning to find its way into cancer treatments and other medical applications. But the real payoff from nanotechnology will come when it matures enough to allow what’s called “molecular manufacturing:” making things by putting the individual atoms and molecules where you want them.

This isn’t radical in theory — it’s how we produce a redwood tree, or a baby, right now, using biological varieties of nanotechnology — but applying these techniques to the manufacture of inanimate goods will be revolutionary.

It may not quite add up to what some nanotechnology enthusiasts predict (“Make anything out of sunlight and dirt”) but then again, that’s how we get a cow, or a redwood tree. Regardless, even primitive molecular manufacturing promises enormous benefits in areas like medicine and information technology.

There are a number of technical steps needed to get us to this stage, as outlined in a “road map” document being prepared by Battelle Labs and the Foresight Institute, but none of them require actual breakthroughs in science, just refinements of engineering.

Both the federal government and private industry are working on these things, but I’d like to see more effort along these lines. As they say, faster please.

As regular readers know, nanotech is expected to bring challenges as well as benefits. But the environmental and medical benefits are quite compelling. —Christine