Gazette.net reports that nanotechnology is bringing dramatic advances:

Imagine not having to go to the doctor when you are sick. No medicine, no popping pills. Instead, tiny cell-like machines in your body would already be at work manufacturing medicine and delivering it exactly where it is needed.

University of Maryland researchers say these ‘‘nanofactories” may not be that far away.

Nanofactories are pseudo-cells that are swallowed, inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and travel to a specific location in the body. What’s unique about the tiny biochemical factories is that they could potentially use materials already in the body to manufacture medicine at the first sign of infection or disease.

While these sound great, they are not what most of us think of when we hear the term “nanofactory”. Wikipedia explains:

A nanofactory is a proposed system in which nanomachines (resembling molecular assemblers, or industrial robot arms) would combine reactive molecules via mechanosynthesis to build larger atomically precise parts. These, in turn, would be assembled by positioning mechanisms of assorted sizes to build macroscopic (visible) but still atomically-precise products.

Thus we see again what we saw with the term nanotechnology itself: a long-term definition migrating to a near-term usage. Evidently this happens frequently with attractive-sounding terms. We’ve grown to accept it, but this tendency makes it hard to discuss long-term technological proposals. I saw someone recently attempting to head this off by trademarking their term, but that looked rather odd.

To summarize: how can we be fairly confident that “nanofactories” may not be that far away? Because it’s a cute word, so someone doing something near-term will use it for their work. QED. —Christine