The Big Idea: The Three Technologies That Define the Future (Part II)


singularity_near.jpgLast week, I was reflecting on the prophetic book The Singularity Is Near, written by Ray Kurzweil. Now while “prophetic” may be a stretch, it is the best way I can describe the book. The Singularity Is Near talks about the exponential rate of progress, evolution, and innovation, and the way we as a species and as a culture are growing alongside it. There are a few things in the book I find debatable, but when you think about when the book was written, it’s astounding when you think about it what he has accurately predicted. we have trouble seeing into the future, and that things are changing faster and faster and faster.

Kurzweil identifies three points, three keystones of scientific advancement, in his book

  • Genetics
  • Nanotechnology
  • Robotics

In the first part of this series around GNR, we took a deep look at genetics, how genetic manipulation offers endless possibilities, and the inherent need for parameters that we stay within lest we lose control of the science. As important as advancement is with society, I also believe disciplines and ethics should be in place.

Now in Part Two, we’re looking at nanotechnology. You might think this is a young, fairly modern science, but nanotechnology was theorized as far back as December 29, 1959 when physicist Richard Feynman described a process where scientists would manipulate individual atoms and molecules in order to create artificially-made objects. The actual term nanotechnology was coined by Professor Norio Taniguchi and every year scientists push to limits of what is possible in this science.

Nanotechnology, on the most basic of levels, allows you to assemble whatever you want molecule by molecule, atom by atom. So you want to make a chair? You create a chair using nanotechnology. Not piece by piece like something you’d pick up at an IKEA but more like what you see in Star Trek. “Computer, make me a chair…” and there you are.

Coffee_replicates_then_mug.jpgTheoretically, nanotechnology could make dinner, again going back to the Star Trek analogy with their replicators. “Tea. Earl Grey. Hot.” The idea of cooking could completely change provided you could create a steak out of molecules. “Steak. New York Strip. Medium Rare.” You would no longer need a cow.

But then we get into how this science, this innovation, changes the way we look at things. How would a cow-free steak affect vegetarianism? Is a steak made with nanotechnology actually a steak? Will it taste like a steak, even if the molecules are identical to the real thing?

You can see how this technology could actually change our whole sense of reality.

Last week, we were looking at genetics, an intersection of information and biology, because the DNA sequence is really an information sequence which is coded. So you could really look at a DNA molecule as simply a boot up routine for the human being and it is all programmed in there. The second technology—nanotechnology—is the intersection between information and the physical world. Kurzweil argues that no matter how successfully we fine tune our DNA base biology it will be no match for what we engineer by manipulating matter at the molecular and atomic level. Nanotech, Kurzweil says, will allow us to redesign and rebuild the world around us, molecule by molecule. We’ll be able to rebuild our environment, our bodies, our brains. Can you imagine the impact?

And Kurzweil predicted this ten years ago in his book.

This is how we begin to understand what “the singularity” is all about. If you look at human DNA, a DNA strand splits and then it replicates, just like a nano-engine. The body has built within it all kinds of nano-engines that allow human growth and development. What Kurzweil conjectures is if we understand the energy of these nanoengines you can actually have facilties powered and populated by nanoengines, all programmed to build a chair, a cup of Earl Grey Tea, or a steak.  The Manufacturing Industry will change dramatically because instead of taking raw products mined from the earth and repurposing them, we’re actually creating the raw product ourselves.

We already have smart contact lenses, 3D-printed batteries, cancer-killing nano-particles, and DNA-based computers. There is a whole movement in nanotechnology, and they are moving and moving and moving further in this direction of make nano-machines that can manufacture. We’re not there yet but Kurzweil believes things are going to develop exponentially.

Is it possible? Who would have thought when Kurzweil originally wrote this book DNA strands would be successfully spliced?

We now approach Robotics, the final component in Kurzweil’s GNR. You probabaly didn’t see that connection between genetics and nanotechnology, but you see the direction we are headed in now. Stick with me, and let’s see where this rabbit hole finally ends.




shurtz.jpgA research physicist who has become an entrepreneur and educational leader, and an expert on competency-based education, critical thinking in the classroom, curriculum development, and education management, Dr. Richard Shurtz is the president and chief executive officer of Stratfdord University. He has published over 30 technical publications, holds 15 patents, and is host of the weekly radio show, Tech Talk. A noted expert on competency-based education, Dr. Shurtz has conducted numerous workshops and seminars for educators in Jamaica, Egypt, India, and China, and has established academic partnerships in China, India, Sri Lanka, Kurdistan, Malaysia, and Canada.


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