Nanoconvergence: The Unity of Nanoscience, Biotechnology, Information Technology and Cognitive Science

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Overview

"William Bainbridge is an original thinker who navigates easily from social sciences to emerging technologies and societal aspirations. In this book, he brings to the reader all that is essential in the historic and rapid change toward science and technology convergence."

—Mihail C. Roco, Ph.D., original chairman of the U.S. National Science and Technology Council's subcommittee on Nanoscale Science, Engineering and Technology, key architect of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, and currently senior advisor for Nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation

"This book provides a sweeping, yet intimate, overview of an important, emerging area of science and technology—nanotechnology and its convergence with other areas of science and engineering. In Nanoconvergence we are provided with a view of these developments as seen through the lens of the world of William Sims Bainbridge, a visionary scientist and scholar, who has helped to frame and nurture nanoconvergence. His personal history and interests are endlessly fascinating, and include science fiction, space flight, religious cults, videogames, and a host of other areas and topics. His knowledge is extraordinary and includes expertise in the field of nanotechnology and related sciences, including biology, cognitive, behavioral and social science, and information technology. Further, he knows many of the players, including some who were mentors, others who are colleagues, and others whose funding he supervised. The strength of this book is the strength of Bainbridge's extensive, connected network, rooted in scientific, technological, and societal concerns.

It is rare to find someone who brings to the table such breadth and depth of knowledge, spanning so many of the sciences, from physics through cognition. Bainbridge is a Renaissance man who is helping to both create and elucidate the potential future worlds that confront us. Ultimately, he is a visionary who is building a roadmap for a future that we can all help to shape. He is to be commended for sharing both this map and his journey with us."

—Philip Rubin, Ph.D., CEO, Haskins Laboratories

"In a world of increasing specialization, Bainbridge offers a refreshing alternative perspective of the way nanoconvergence will help unify disparate areas of knowledge and fuel a next generation of innovation. The integration of historical and forward-looking insights, firmly grounded in the people and projects of the present, made this an enjoyable read. With Nanoconvergence, Bainbridge joins the ranks of the few authors who have succeeded in integrating insights from far flung fields of science and technology into a compelling human story."

—James C. Spohrer, Ph.D, Director, Services Research and Innovation Champion, IBM Almaden Research Center

The Next Scientific and Technological Revolution, and What It Will Mean to You

  • Explains the core principles and tools that are increasingly driving scientific and technical progress
  • Previews today's rapidly converging revolutions in cognitive science: from psychology to linguistics, artificial intelligence to anthropology
  • Tours the shifting border between nanotechnology and biotechnology

Nanoconvergence is the coming unification of all significant technologies based on control of structures at the nanoscale. As biotechnology, information technology, cognitive science, physics, chemistry, and material science come together, their power will increase exponentially. This book is the first authoritative but easy-to-understand guide to the coming nanoconvergence revolution—and how it may reshape your life.

In Nanoconvergence , William Sims Bainbridge tours the future of science and technology in plain, nontechnical English. Bainbridge draws on an extraordinary breadth and depth of knowledge, based on his unique role at the epicenter of the nanoconvergence revolution. He successfully integrates insights from far-reaching scientific fields into a compelling human story—offering powerful insights you can use to plan your career, seek new investment opportunities, or simply understand what's coming next.

  • Discover new breakthroughs in measuring, manipulating, and organizing matter at the nanoscale and the implications of those advances
  • See why science fiction's view of nanotechnology is wrong and why the truth is even more exciting
  • Preview new technologies built on the principles of cognitive science and enabled by nanotechnology
  • Learn how nanotechnology may save Moore's Law, allowing computers to double in power every year for the next two decades
  • Discover why nanoconvergence may spark a renaissance in the social sciences
  • Examine the potential impact of scientific and technological convergence on human society and diversity
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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
The Barnes & Noble Review
You know nanotech is exciting, but you don't know the half of it. There's an extraordinary scientific convergence happening at the nanoscale, where the fundamental structures of life arise. Nanoconvergence will transform everything from biotech to cognitive science. This is deeply exciting stuff, whether you're passionate about the science or you're just looking for great investments. In Nanoconvergence, Dr. William Bainbridge explains the science in plain English and previews its amazing implications.

Bainbridge, who co-edited the first comprehensive review of nanotech's potential to change society, knows everyone who's anyone in the field. He writes authoritatively (and clearly) about nanotech research in areas ranging from cancer research to athletic performance, computing to clean energy, space flight to terrorism prevention. And he does readers one more invaluable service, too: He clears away the fantasies that surround nanotech (no, you do not have to lose sleep over "grey goo.") Bill Camarda, from the August 2007 Read Only

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780132446433
  • Publisher: Prentice Hall
  • Publication date: 7/13/2007
  • Pages: 250
  • Product dimensions: 5.90 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.70 (d)

Meet the Author

William Sims Bainbridge is one of the leading scientists exploring and popularizing the emerging field of nanoconvergence. He is the author of seventeen books and more than 200 articles in areas ranging from information science to the sociology of religion. He has been at the National Science Foundation since 1992, and currently codirects its program in Human-Centered Computing. He holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University.

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Read an Excerpt

Preface

This book explores the future of science and technology, and their implications for human beings. It is based on the insights of hundreds of scientists and engineers working at the cutting edge of research, as seen through the eyes of a social scientist who worked alongside them to organize, write, and edit a series of influential government-sponsored and independent reports. Although I have made every effort to be balanced and comprehensive, this book is not a sterile exercise in abstraction and objectivity. Rather, it seeks to provide information that will be both fascinating and useful for students, entrepreneurs, investors, fellow scientists or engineers, and people in many walks of life who want to understand how their work and their world will change in coming decades.

One of the scariest questions for young people is this: "What will you be when you grow up?" Sometimes people nearing retirement age joke, "I still don't know what I'm going to be when I grow up!" Often be means do, and the question really refers to selecting a career and finding a job. More broadly, the question might refer to what kind of person you or I might become, in whatever span of life is left to us on this spinning planet. However the question is defined, it cannot be answered in isolation. A person cannot simply decide to become a blacksmith, elevator operator, or spaceship pilot. The economy and the technological culture must provide such jobs, or no one can get them. Contrary to predictions, the trade of blacksmithing did not completely disappear, although its role in society has been greatly diminished. I suppose elevator operators became security guards—and I wonder if they considered that change to be a demotion or a promotion. I don't know what happened to all of the prospective spaceship pilots. My point is that the nature of technical work, and the nature of the world in which we all live, will change radically in the future, because science and technology have entered an era of fundamental transformation.

At the time of the "dot-com crash" nearly a decade ago, computer professionals used to joke, "Now we'll find out how many computer programmers the world really needs." The implication was that data processing had been going through a technological revolution, but after the guns had fallen silent, there might not be much action anymore. Everyone in the field had noticed that big companies and government agencies had been producing their own electronic data systems, often at great cost and with dismal results. Soon, it was believed, they would admit that the desire to have their own proprietary systems was a dysfunctional status obsession and begin to buy their software off the shelf—just as everyone else was already doing. In the early 1980s, very small companies could succeed while writing software for the consumer market, but since then a shakeout had occurred in small business and home office software. By way of analogy, in the beginning of the twentieth century, scores of small companies set out to make automobiles, but within half a century the overwhelming majority had ceased to exist. Perhaps by 2010, every business on the face of the Earth could make do with Microsoft Office.

This issue raises two questions very germane to the topic of this book: "What is computer science?" and "How can it continue to progress?" Computer science is not simply programming, nor is it the more exalted profession of software engineering, although both entities depend on it. Nor is computer science merely a branch of electrical engineering, although many people who call themselves computer scientists have a degree in "EE." Rather, computer science is an incomplete convergence of mutually supportive fields that cooperate to produce the hardware, software, and management systems required to process information, including in consumer areas such as the World Wide Web and online games, as well as in service of corporations and government agencies. As "comp-sci" matures, it draws more and more fields into it. Early on, it attracted many mathematicians; today, it needs the expertise of members of the cognitive science field and the social sciences. As this unification progresses, the field should probably be renamed simply information science. Indeed, this term is already in wide circulation, where it is used to encompass all forms of communication, whether or not they are supported by electronic devices.

We cannot be sure how much longer the electronic hardware will continue to progress. In the past, hardware advances both permitted and demanded software advances, and the evolution of the two together enabled entirely new applications. When I entered Yale University as a physics major in 1958, it was widely believed that two prominent application areas, nuclear technology and space rocketry, would rise still further to transform the world. This proved to be a miscalculation: Within 15 years, both areas had largely stalled. We still need nuclear and aerospace engineers, but now they work primarily as the paid minions of corporate executives, with very limited scope for personal innovation. The same is true for most computer professionals in large organizations. Even so, the information area has kept lively because individual entrepreneurs and small companies have continued to develop new approaches and applications. "A revolution every five minutes" is a slight exaggeration, but this period of growth and discovery could end at any time.

So what is a person to do? What I did, when I was young, was stumble from field to field for a few years, before realizing that as a social scientist I could keep innovating by applying my growing professional experience to a series of different topics, each appropriate for the decade in which I was working on it. At a recent computer science convention, a couple of corporate recruiters told me they were looking for students who knew exactly what specialty they wanted to work in, and who were gaining the precise expertise required for that niche. I was horrified to hear this. What will these companies do with these people when their specialties are no longer needed in a few years? Fire them, probably. A young person seeking a career in science or engineering today should start from the hopeful premise that the fundamental things he or she is really interested in will remain important decades later. But such a person cannot assume that particular narrow technical fields or job classifications will still exist even one decade in the future. The fact that many of the best opportunities will exist at the boundaries of fields does not mean that a student should avoid exploring one field deeply. For many, a "T-shaped" expertise will be best—that is, deep in one area but also covering adjacent areas. Often, a corporation or other technical organization will value highly a person who has solid expertise in a field central to its work, but who also possesses enough expertise in adjacent areas to contribute to a multidisciplinary team, or even to promote transfer of new ideas from one field to another. Opportunities for such a person become especially great when an entire new field is opening up.

Many physicists who happened to be mathematically inclined became computer scientists simply by redefining the expertise they already had. Others, who were better with chemistry than math, became materials scientists, and more recently redefined their expertise as nanoscience. As this book will demonstrate, nanotechnology is converging with biotechnology and information technology. Great opportunities exist for people who are prepared to build the bridges between those fields today.

Does this transdisciplinary philosophy place unreasonable demands on students, asking them to add extra work to the full-time job of learning one field well? Not necessarily, if their teachers also evolve with the changing conditions in science and technology. Much of the "expertise" in many fields consists of brute, dumb facts, often in the form of unnecessary nomenclatures. The unification of the sciences and branches of engineering requires a transformation of their styles and cultures. Part of that transition will be achieved by easy-to-use information technology systems that replace the arcane technical handbooks of the past. Part of it will be achieved by new terminology and analytic or design procedures that can be applied broadly across fields. And part of it will be achieved by the development of new professions specifically designed to bridge between specialized branches of expertise.

When I earned my doctorate in sociology from Harvard University in 1975, with a dissertation on the social history of the space program, I was lucky to get a job in the tenth-ranked sociology department in the country, because the job market was in the process of crashing. Enthusiasm for the social sciences began to dwindle at that time, and today the social sciences (except economics, if you want to count that "rich" field among the social sciences) have less influence than they did in the 1950s and 1960s. Coincidentally, 1975 also marked the end of the remarkably vigorous post-war growth of U.S. universities. Put bluntly, it is hard to name any clear-cut discoveries achieved in the social sciences comparable to the feats achieved in genetics, for example, over the same period. And yet, public confidence in political leaders is justifiably low at the present time, and advanced societies face many policy decisions, including some concerning which technologies to promote or prohibit. We would be better off today if the social sciences were more influential, and if they had earned that position on the basis of solid achievements based on actual scientific discovery. Ultimately, winning such respect will require the social sciences to become integrated with the cognitive sciences, on the basis of a shared understanding of human behavior.

This book has two themes. One is clearly stated in the title: Nanoconvergence. Today, nanotechnology is converging on the one side with information technology, and on the other side with biotechnology. The convergence of information technology with biotechnology is making it possible to build new technologies on the basis of cognitive science, all enabled by nanotechnology. The second theme is perhaps less clearly stated in the identity of the author of the book, a social scientist who became an information or computer scientist and worked with the National Nanotechnology Initiative. Technological convergence requires a social awareness if it is to benefit people, and that awareness can best be achieved by reviving social science on the basis of its convergence with the other fields.

While useful for students who face career choices, this book is not narrowly aimed at people who are deciding what they want to be when they grow up, except in the sense that we all must negotiate shifts in our identity in this changing world, hoping we all grow intellectually so long as we live. Whether as investors, managers, consumers, or citizens, we will all face choices related to science and technology. This book is intended to be a resource for people who are contemplating many kinds of choices, and for people who are interested in understanding the world around them. It seeks to put the reader into communication with hundreds of scientists and engineers, and with the hundreds of social scientists and philosophers who have collaborated with them, so as to share their excitement and wisdom about the coming convergence.

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Table of Contents

Preface xiii

About the Author xix

Chapter 1 Convergence at the Nanoscale 1

The Meaning of "Nano" 1
Nanotechnology and Scientific Progress 4
Technological Convergence 9
Application Areas 15
Radical Transformations 17
The Plan of This Book 19
References 22

Chapter 2 Visions and Illusions 25

Imagination and Impossibility 25
Birds Can't Fly to the Moon 26
Cold Facts 28
Science Fiction 29
Drexler's Vision 35
Alchemy at the Nanoscale 42
Nanopanic 44
Conclusion 46
References 47

Chapter 3 Information Technology 51

Moore's Law 51
Sensors 58
Quantum Computing 60
The Information Technology Research Initiative 63
Grand Information Technology Challenges 68
Conclusion 74
References 76

Chapter 4 Biotechnology 81

Nanotechnology from the Perspective of Biology 81
Nano-Bio Convergence 83
The Problem of Cancer 87
Paths to Nano-Bio Innovation 89
Agriculture and the Environment 92
Evolutionary Methods: Computing and Culture 95
Improving Human Performance 103
Conclusion 106
References 107

Chapter 5 Cognitive Technology 113

The Two Faces of Cognitive Science 113
Cognitive Convergence 117
The Prehistory of Cognitive Technologies 124
Neurotechnology 128
The Communicator 133
Conclusion 136
References 137

Chapter 6 Unification of Science 143

Creating Convergers 143
Eight Principles for Convergence 149
Conservation 150
Indecision 151
Configuration 152
Interaction 153
Variation 153
Evolution 154
Information 155
Cognition 155
Ethical Principles 156
Social Relations 159
Behavioral Social Science 163
Conclusion 168
References 169

Chapter 7 Unity in Diversity 175

Critics of Convergence 175
Looking Forward 180
Family and Reproduction 181
Culture and Personality 183
Societal Institutions 186
Science, Health, and Environment 188
How Will the World Be Governed? 189
A New Science of Services 195
Conclusion 200
References 201

Chapter 8 The Final Frontier 207

The Giant Leap 207
The Realities of Interplanetary Travel 211
The Solar System 215
Personality Transfer 222
What Is to Be Done? 228
Conclusion 231
References 232

Index 239

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Preface

Preface

This book explores the future of science and technology, and their implications for human beings. It is based on the insights of hundreds of scientists and engineers working at the cutting edge of research, as seen through the eyes of a social scientist who worked alongside them to organize, write, and edit a series of influential government-sponsored and independent reports. Although I have made every effort to be balanced and comprehensive, this book is not a sterile exercise in abstraction and objectivity. Rather, it seeks to provide information that will be both fascinating and useful for students, entrepreneurs, investors, fellow scientists or engineers, and people in many walks of life who want to understand how their work and their world will change in coming decades.

One of the scariest questions for young people is this: "What will you be when you grow up?" Sometimes people nearing retirement age joke, "I still don't know what I'm going to be when I grow up!" Often be means do, and the question really refers to selecting a career and finding a job. More broadly, the question might refer to what kind of person you or I might become, in whatever span of life is left to us on this spinning planet. However the question is defined, it cannot be answered in isolation. A person cannot simply decide to become a blacksmith, elevator operator, or spaceship pilot. The economy and the technological culture must provide such jobs, or no one can get them. Contrary to predictions, the trade of blacksmithing did not completely disappear, although its role in society has been greatly diminished. I suppose elevator operators became security guards--and I wonder if they considered that change to be a demotion or a promotion. I don't know what happened to all of the prospective spaceship pilots. My point is that the nature of technical work, and the nature of the world in which we all live, will change radically in the future, because science and technology have entered an era of fundamental transformation.

At the time of the "dot-com crash" nearly a decade ago, computer professionals used to joke, "Now we'll find out how many computer programmers the world really needs." The implication was that data processing had been going through a technological revolution, but after the guns had fallen silent, there might not be much action anymore. Everyone in the field had noticed that big companies and government agencies had been producing their own electronic data systems, often at great cost and with dismal results. Soon, it was believed, they would admit that the desire to have their own proprietary systems was a dysfunctional status obsession and begin to buy their software off the shelf--just as everyone else was already doing. In the early 1980s, very small companies could succeed while writing software for the consumer market, but since then a shakeout had occurred in small business and home office software. By way of analogy, in the beginning of the twentieth century, scores of small companies set out to make automobiles, but within half a century the overwhelming majority had ceased to exist. Perhaps by 2010, every business on the face of the Earth could make do with Microsoft Office.

This issue raises two questions very germane to the topic of this book: "What is computer science?" and "How can it continue to progress?" Computer science is not simply programming, nor is it the more exalted profession of software engineering, although both entities depend on it. Nor is computer science merely a branch of electrical engineering, although many people who call themselves computer scientists have a degree in "EE." Rather, computer science is an incomplete convergence of mutually supportive fields that cooperate to produce the hardware, software, and management systems required to process information, including in consumer areas such as the World Wide Web and online games, as well as in service of corporations and government agencies. As "comp-sci" matures, it draws more and more fields into it. Early on, it attracted many mathematicians; today, it needs the expertise of members of the cognitive science field and the social sciences. As this unification progresses, the field should probably be renamed simply information science. Indeed, this term is already in wide circulation, where it is used to encompass all forms of communication, whether or not they are supported by electronic devices.

We cannot be sure how much longer the electronic hardware will continue to progress. In the past, hardware advances both permitted and demanded software advances, and the evolution of the two together enabled entirely new applications. When I entered Yale University as a physics major in 1958, it was widely believed that two prominent application areas, nuclear technology and space rocketry, would rise still further to transform the world. This proved to be a miscalculation: Within 15 years, both areas had largely stalled. We still need nuclear and aerospace engineers, but now they work primarily as the paid minions of corporate executives, with very limited scope for personal innovation. The same is true for most computer professionals in large organizations. Even so, the information area has kept lively because individual entrepreneurs and small companies have continued to develop new approaches and applications. "A revolution every five minutes" is a slight exaggeration, but this period of growth and discovery could end at any time.

So what is a person to do? What I did, when I was young, was stumble from field to field for a few years, before realizing that as a social scientist I could keep innovating by applying my growing professional experience to a series of different topics, each appropriate for the decade in which I was working on it. At a recent computer science convention, a couple of corporate recruiters told me they were looking for students who knew exactly what specialty they wanted to work in, and who were gaining the precise expertise required for that niche. I was horrified to hear this. What will these companies do with these people when their specialties are no longer needed in a few years? Fire them, probably. A young person seeking a career in science or engineering today should start from the hopeful premise that the fundamental things he or she is really interested in will remain important decades later. But such a person cannot assume that particular narrow technical fields or job classifications will still exist even one decade in the future. The fact that many of the best opportunities will exist at the boundaries of fields does not mean that a student should avoid exploring one field deeply. For many, a "T-shaped" expertise will be best—that is, deep in one area but also covering adjacent areas. Often, a corporation or other technical organization will value highly a person who has solid expertise in a field central to its work, but who also possesses enough expertise in adjacent areas to contribute to a multidisciplinary team, or even to promote transfer of new ideas from one field to another. Opportunities for such a person become especially great when an entire new field is opening up.

Many physicists who happened to be mathematically inclined became computer scientists simply by redefining the expertise they already had. Others, who were better with chemistry than math, became materials scientists, and more recently redefined their expertise as nanoscience. As this book will demonstrate, nanotechnology is converging with biotechnology and information technology. Great opportunities exist for people who are prepared to build the bridges between those fields today.

Does this transdisciplinary philosophy place unreasonable demands on students, asking them to add extra work to the full-time job of learning one field well? Not necessarily, if their teachers also evolve with the changing conditions in science and technology. Much of the "expertise" in many fields consists of brute, dumb facts, often in the form of unnecessary nomenclatures. The unification of the sciences and branches of engineering requires a transformation of their styles and cultures. Part of that transition will be achieved by easy-to-use information technology systems that replace the arcane technical handbooks of the past. Part of it will be achieved by new terminology and analytic or design procedures that can be applied broadly across fields. And part of it will be achieved by the development of new professions specifically designed to bridge between specialized branches of expertise.

When I earned my doctorate in sociology from Harvard University in 1975, with a dissertation on the social history of the space program, I was lucky to get a job in the tenth-ranked sociology department in the country, because the job market was in the process of crashing. Enthusiasm for the social sciences began to dwindle at that time, and today the social sciences (except economics, if you want to count that "rich" field among the social sciences) have less influence than they did in the 1950s and 1960s. Coincidentally, 1975 also marked the end of the remarkably vigorous post-war growth of U.S. universities. Put bluntly, it is hard to name any clear-cut discoveries achieved in the social sciences comparable to the feats achieved in genetics, for example, over the same period. And yet, public confidence in political leaders is justifiably low at the present time, and advanced societies face many policy decisions, including some concerning which technologies to promote or prohibit. We would be better off today if the social sciences were more influential, and if they had earned that position on the basis of solid achievements based on actual scientific discovery. Ultimately, winning such respect will require the social sciences to become integrated with the cognitive sciences, on the basis of a shared understanding of human behavior.

This book has two themes. One is clearly stated in the title: Nanoconvergence. Today, nanotechnology is converging on the one side with information technology, and on the other side with biotechnology. The convergence of information technology with biotechnology is making it possible to build new technologies on the basis of cognitive science, all enabled by nanotechnology. The second theme is perhaps less clearly stated in the identity of the author of the book, a social scientist who became an information or computer scientist and worked with the National Nanotechnology Initiative. Technological convergence requires a social awareness if it is to benefit people, and that awareness can best be achieved by reviving social science on the basis of its convergence with the other fields.

While useful for students who face career choices, this book is not narrowly aimed at people who are deciding what they want to be when they grow up, except in the sense that we all must negotiate shifts in our identity in this changing world, hoping we all grow intellectually so long as we live. Whether as investors, managers, consumers, or citizens, we will all face choices related to science and technology. This book is intended to be a resource for people who are contemplating many kinds of choices, and for people who are interested in understanding the world around them. It seeks to put the reader into communication with hundreds of scientists and engineers, and with the hundreds of social scientists and philosophers who have collaborated with them, so as to share their excitement and wisdom about the coming convergence.

Read More Show Less

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