Nanotechnology conferences make strange bedfellows. Or at least that was the case at a 2002 NanoBusiness conference I attended in New York City that was chaired by Newt Gingrich. Also in attendance was Ray Kurzweil, who told the conference that nanorobots “will enter the human brain and replace human consciousness with virtual reality.” And yet that was hardly the strangest thing I heard that day. That moment came when the former House Speaker, a champion of fiscal austerity, called for major government investments in nanotechnology, while heaping praise on the Clinton Administration’s National Nanotechnology Initiative. Our political parties agree on very few things these days, and that was certainly the case in 2002. And yet, Gingrich called this federal research and development program “the investment with the largest payoff over the next 50 years.”
It very well may be. And perhaps that is why Gingrich, a man affectionately known by some as “Newt Skywalker” — due to his tech sweet tooth — is such a fan.
Let’s fast forward to the present day.
We are already able to create materials and devices at a scale that was once unimaginable in our physical world. And when advances in science threaten to outpace our moral imagination, we will need new metaphors to make sense of both the physical and the metaphysical conceptions of the world. For instance, this is what the not-so-distant future holds, according to Ray Kurzweil:
Just a few years ago, if I wanted to send you a movie or a book or a recorded album, I would send you a FedEx package. Now I can e-mail you an attachment and you can create a movie or a book from that. In the future, I’ll be able to e-mail you a blouse or a meal.
It is hard to think of an industry that won’t be impacted by a technology that promises to become ubiquitous in our daily lives, ranging from medicine and electronics to energy and biomaterials. Fortunes are certain to be made.
Watch Ray Kurzweil on the promise of nanotechnology: