IEEE Fellows make nanotechnology timing predictions

IEEE Fellows are a plausible group of engineers to ask about the timing of nanotech and other technology developments. No one is really great at doing this for nanotech, as it is always hard to do in any field and, for nano, more multidiciplinary than any one person can be. So with that in mind, here are some timing thoughts of electrical engineers. The timeframe covered is 10 to 50 years (supposedly, but see my note at the end), and I’ve included both nano and other interesting estimates, from an IEEE Spectrum article co-authored by Foresight Communication Prize winner David Pescovitz and IFTF’s Marina Gorbis:

Will “smart dust” devices be widely deployed in sensor networks?
Unlikely 15.5%
Likely 51.9%
When is this likely to occur?
10 years or less 29%
11 to 20 years 40.3%

Will nanoelectromechanical systems go commercial?
Unlikely 11.5%
Equal chances 26.9%
Likely 57.7%
When is this likely to occur?
10 years or less 27.6%
11 to 20 years 55.2%

Will molecular self-assembly be commonly used to build integrated circuits?
Unlikely 38.5%
Equal chances 33.7%
Likely 26%
[Dates missing from article]

Will robust design tools for fabrication at the nanoscale become available?
Unlikely 10.6%
Equal chances 23.1%
Likely 63.5%
When is this likely to occur?
10 years or less 38.7%
11 to 20 years 40.3%

Will microscale robotics become viable?
Unlikely 15.4%
Equal chances 26.9%
Likely 52.9%
When is this likely to occur?
10 years or less 9.6%
11 to 20 years 53.8%

Will it be commercially viable to manufacture nanostructured materials to exact specifications without machining?
Unlikely 20.2%
Equal chances 22.1%
Likely 55.8%
When is this likely to occur?
10 years or less 26.3%
11 to 20 years 50.9%

Will implantable brain-machine interfaces be widely adopted?
Unlikely 19.5%
Equal chances 29.3%
Likely 47.6%
[Dates missing from article]

Some of these answer look too conservative to me. Fifty years is a very long time in technology. I’m wondering whether the second question on specific dates got them thinking they were being asked about twenty years, not fifty. [UPDATE: see comments for author’s response on this.] Or maybe it’s just the usual effect of a very human error we tend to make, described in the article:

“We tend to overestimate the impact of a technology in the short run and underestimate it in the long run,” observed former IFTF president Roy Amara years ago.

If I’m lucky enough to be around in 50 years, email me and we’ll see what happened with these predictions! —Christine

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