What is the most promising aspect of nano-technology?
While nanotechnology will surely revolutionize human society in general certain aspects have more immediate potential than others. As a computer engineering student, I am most interested in the implications of nanotubes' electrical properties and the capabilities that these imply. In the same way that the microchip has revolutionized the way that the world communicates, and operates, the "nanochip" will make computers even more available and useful.
RFID tags will soon make counterfeiting currency all but impossible (see link 1). Molecular sized transistors will allow literally billions of transistors on a single chip, as thin as the molecules that make it up.
New fabrication techniques will eventually allow massive, inexpensive and totally efficient production of everything that we currently assemble by hand. One of the first products that will likely be assembled with these techniques will be computers. When this finally occurs computers will likely be available to more and more people.
Thus the potential for production may seem to be the true promise of nanotechnology but like the factory, the nanomachine will be remembered as a useful tool that enabled the production of products faster and more easily of truly revolutionary products.
There are, of course, important ethical and security issues that should be considered by developers of nanotechnology, such as possible use of those same miniature RFID tags used in currency to track and monitor individuals. In this way nanoscale electronics may be the bane as well as the boon of freedom.
The most promising aspect of nanotechnology is providing clean water to billions of people that currently do not have access to it. Almost half the world's population lacks access to basic sanitation, and almost 1.5 billion have no access to clean water. Water-related diseases kill thousands, perhaps tens of thousands, of children each day. This is entirely preventable with basic technology, cheap to manufacture—if the factories are cheap and portable.
Physical filters with nanometer-scale pores can remove 100% of bacteria, viruses, and even prions. An electrical separation technology that attracts ions to supercapacitor plates can remove salts and heavy metals. The ability to recycle water from any source for any use can save huge amounts of water, and allow the use of presently unusable water resources. It can also eliminate downstream pollution; a completely effective water filter also permits the generation of dirty waste streams from agricultural and industrial operations.
One of the more grandiose ideas for applying nanotechnology is the space elevator. Imagine a cable with one end attached to Earth on a floating platform at the equator, and the other end anchored in space beyond geosynchronous orbit. The space elevator would use electric lifts traveling along the cable to place satellites, spaceships and other hardware into Earth orbit.
The Space Elevator (www.space.com)
I think the most promising aspect of nano-technology is the fact that, according to a recent study, that it's worse for a persons lungs than asbestos.
Ok, seriously. While I think Nanotechnology does offer alot of promise, I also believe that humans will do anything in the name of advancement.
For example, in the early 1900's, people used nifty X-ray's to determine the size shoe they needed. These were scattered throughout all major department stores. If you don't know, X-rays are god awful for you (that's why you wear that jacket when you get an x-ray done).
In the end, companies don't invest enough to try and determine any adverse effects any big advancements can have on people and nature.
Nanotechnology worse than Asbestos? (www.nanotechproject.org)
Weapons made using Buckyballs. "There are studies showing that they can cross the blood-brain barrier and alter cell functions, which raises a lot of questions about their toxicity and what impact they may have if released into the environment." See link below.
Of course that's not the ONLY use, but it's the most promising based upon current research and near-future applications.
Nanotechnology Risks: How Buckyballs Hurt Cells (www.sciencedaily.com)
Though I am generally in favor of maintaining a military advantage, I would strongly disagree that nanotechnologies' greatest promise to humanity is in the form of a weapon that is as vile as biological or chemical warfare. Perhaps the question was misunderstood. The question was to debate the technology provides the promise of improving humanity the most. Yet another weapon of mass destruction is the last thing that we need.
Luckily, the folks at Cornell have been working on something that will hopefully make things like biological and chemical warfare a thing of the past.
Fabrics that render toxins harmless (www.nanitenews.com)