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February 20th, 2010
Nanofactories: Brave, Or Grave New World?
A patient without medical insurance downloads a medicine's formula to his computer. A personal "nanofactory" sits on his desk. It builds the medicine he needs, molecule by molecule, as if printing a document.
Next door, an aspiring tyrant has a nanofactory, too. He's building guns, lots of guns. Enough to arm a militia.
These scenarios may sound like science fiction. In the view of a leading watcher of the emerging field of nanotechnology, they represent two views of what could be real life in the future.
Chris Phoenix has been studying these scenarios, keeping an eye for how a scientific revolution involving the smallest molecules will change everyday life.
Phoenix co-founded and serves as research director for the not-for-profit think tank called the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology (CRN). He's been thinking a lot about nanotechnology—the science of controlling material as small as atoms—and how miniscule machines size could construct a huge variety of materials, or even reproduce themselves.
In theory a "personal nanofactory" containing huge numbers of these replicators could sit on a desk. CRN's website says a machine like that "has the potential to alleviate most shortages, and enable a high standard of living for everyone who has access to it."
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