Nanotechnologies are a suite of rapidly developing technologies that seek to manipulate matter at the atomic scale in order to develop new materials and devices with novel properties. Current and projected applications cover a very broad range of fields, which include health care, manufacturing, electronics, energy generation and storage, food production and processing and environmental management - See Nanotechnology Development for a 2018 update by way of progress benchmark..
Today nano-technology is really still in an early stage of development, not unlike the computer industry in the 1960s or biotechnology in the 1980s. However, financially it is maturing very rapidly as between 1997 and 2005, investment in nanotech research and development around the world rose from $432 million to about $4.1 billion. By 2015, it is estimated that products incorporating nano-technology will contribute approximately $1 trillion to the global economy and that about two million workers will be employed in nano-technology related industries, while something like three times that many may be employed in its support industry. It has been suggested nano-technology is undergoing a staged development along the following lines:
- 2000-2005: Initial developments focused on passive nanostructures,
i.e. materials with static structure and function. An example application
was for carbon nano-tube wires used in ultra-miniaturized electronics.
Of course, the ability to rearrange atoms might well lead to completely
new material properties.
- 2005-2010: In this phase, the focus started to switch to more
active nano-structures that could change the size, shape, conductivity
and other properties of a material, while in operation. For example,
transistors and other microchip functions could be reduced to a
single complex molecule.
- 2010-2015: By this time there may be sufficient expertise to
manipulate a large number of nano-components into a complex multi-function
system. For example, medicine might be able to use such systems
to improve the tissue compatibility of implants or even to build
- 2015-2020: Ultimately, the goal is to build molecular nano-systems into a network structure which acts as distinct devices. For example, proteins inside cells work together this way, although such biological systems are water-based and temperature-sensitive, while molecular nano-systems might be able to operate in far more extreme environments and be much faster.
Extending this line of speculation, computers and even entire robotic systems could be reduced to extraordinarily small sizes. Medical applications might be as ambitious as new types of genetic therapies and anti-aging treatments. New interfaces might be able to link people directly to a new generation of integrated devices that could transform present-day telecommunications into something that looks more like telepathy. Therefore, in the context of future AI developments, nano-technology could provide a way of constructing the millions of neural implants required by a human mind to experience a form of artificial or augmented reality. Within this concept, nano-probes would be linked to very advanced computer monitoring systems that would allow the nano-probes to be installed as an interface between biological neuron cells within the brain. Subsequently, the artificial reality systems would then be able to provide coordinated neural stimulation that might one-day be able to mimic normal sensory inputs.