inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #26 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 2 Jun 03 11:01
Hi Airman,

Good sound comment, and no offence taken! I wrote strongly, and
expected to generate strong comment. Many thanks for taking the time.

I didn't start off to slag Drexler, Merkle et al. But as my research
progressed, and I found so many examples of legitimate scientists
digging out real data about the nanocosm by the collective sweat of
their brow, the more my anger built. Here were mere what-iffers, who
made nothing and researched nothing, pretending to have all the
answers. So I'm not sure I was wrong to write a Philippic. 

I thought so briefly a month ago, when Drexler told the New Scientist
that the molecular-assembly work should no longer be considered
nanotechnology. That instantly put all his work outside the scope of
Nanocosm, right? But since then I've found this admirable statement
belied by Drexler's groups continuing to post genuine research
alongside their speculations on various websites. Drexler toned himself
down for New Scientist, but not for the general public. So the battle
goes on to separate M-A work from genuine nanotescience in the public
mind: to let citizens distinguish fact from fiction. 

As for Dr Merkle, I'm willing to accede he's a respected cryptogapher;
but that's not the arena he's voluntarily entered, and in which he has
set himself up to be judged. If he's chosen to sell snake oil, that's
how I'm going to assess him. Nor am I alone in feeling this. 

I see Zyvex as the corporate equivalent of vanity publishing. Drex got
a wealthy acolyte to capitalize a company dedicated to making a real
live molecular assembler. Unfortunately, rhetoric may convince a
private investor; but it doesn't work on Mother Nature. So as SciAm
noted, Zyvex has pulled in its horns and is now investigating micro-
rather than nano-machinery. How very un-Drexlerian.

Paradoxically, while I directly recommend no firms in Nanocosm (and
have no specific investment criteria beyond admiration for sound
technology), I'm tempted to list Zyvex as a strong buy! Like the Blues
Brothers, they're on a mission from God. With that kind of messianic
motivation, while they'll never make an M-A, they will probably stumble
on some very interesting secondary and tertiary effects within the
nanocosm -- like any good scientist. Drexler is at last getting a
reality check; and he and everyone can only profit by it. I fail to see
why he spends so much time touting the unlikely.

In fact I would have absolutely no problem with Mr Drexler if he (1)
Continually pointed out that he is indulging in speculation, which when
labelled as such can be a very useful thing; (2) Disassociated himself
from the corpsicle cult; (3) Toned down his passive-agressive
shilling. He's made a fine bookshelf here. Why is he trying to sell it
as a yacht?

As for the Canadian companies, as I point out in my introduction I
wrote not a compendium but a sampler. I found that one can hardly swing
a cat these days without running into interesting nanosci and
nanotech. This is because real nanoscience is being generated across a
broad spectrum of classical disciplines (physics, chemistry, materials
science, biosciences) by the STM, AFM, and other microscope (or rather
nanoscopes). I did sample certain key aras such as Silicon Valley,
Tsukuba, and Switzerland; but as for the rest, I could easily fill my
berry basket simply by leaning out my window and gathering away. The
fact remains that many Americans constantly empril their valid view of
reality by believing that what they do is best simply because they do
it. But gold is where you find it, whether in San Jose or at Simon


inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #27 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Mon 2 Jun 03 11:48

With the exception of the corpsicle cult, I have viewed the Drexler's
and Merkle's of the world as theorists, a necessary evil for any
investor since they often appear as overhead and produce erratically a
theory that often needs more work. However, they are necessary to keep
the experimentalists from acting like a bunch of monkeys.

The expermentalists are ripe fodder for any investor and especially the
VC if the experimentalist doesn't have an MBA or even an entrepreneurial
bone in their body. They are noted for their curmudgeonly humor which
both of us appreciate and their costly failures due to bad theoretical

So, the nanocosm seems like a handfull of undelivered promises similar
to the flying car promises of the past 100 years. There are a few minor
successes here and there, but nothing as earth shaking as the personal
computer (IBM, Apple and Microsoft), the cell phone, or plastic,

There doesn't seem to be an obvious heir apparent to the
computer/communications revolution emerging from the nanocosm. While the
areas of medicine seem ripe, they are complicated by government approval
which are more exhasperating than experimental or theoretical research.
And the areas of computers and communication are way ahead of the
ability of society to aborb the capabilities.

In general, it would seem that for a VC that the Next-Big-Thing is
something that will improve the human condition either reducing
starvation through increased food and water supplies, or providing
shelter and clothing which can be produced at a lower cost than today.

One of the best things about Nanocosm was the explaination regarding the
Cool Chip. This device is counterintuitive and is a neat engineering
solution that seems to defy physics.

As an investor I look for medical solutions that will prevent or heal
diseases or damage. In general, the solution has to extend life if only
for a few critical moments.

However, nanotechnology has great promise in the materials science
arena. One of these improvements is Smart Paper which you mention as
imminent. MIT spun off a Professor to E-Ink which appears to be the
leader in this area. For an interesting and somewhat specualtive web
page on this check out

Even if you take the approach of building in the nanocosm one soo
realizes that to do anything really serious you end up in the microcosm
with MEMS and medications that are measured in milligrams.

Furthermore, there is the gross realization that the world at the
molecular level has a lot of forces being thrown around that are often
ignored from a macroview. Van Der Waals forces and other forces of the x
to the n (N=2 to 10) power take over. And at the same time we may be
able to look at quantum effects more closely as the result of "living"
at this level.

However, living in the nanocosm is one thing but affecting the
marcoworld is another. Buckeytubes and their phenomenal strength are
commonly cited which will decrease weight and increase strength. Even a
two fold factor change in beam weight/strength would make a difference
but the proponents, even respected Nobel winners like Smalley, seem to
indicate that we may have structural beams 100 times as long as they are
now weighing about the same!

Is the nanocosm simply a whole lotta of little advances or is there a
Next-Big-Thing that nanotechnology will affect home, office and personal
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #28 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 2 Jun 03 12:43
Hi again, Airman! 

In keeping with my reality-stressing approach in Nanocosm, I construed
"theorist" not as a dreamer, but as someone who elegantly summarizes
observed data in testable, mathematics-based hypotheses.Messrs Drexler
& Merkle don't meet this criterion. Of course there's a need for
dreamers too: Feynman, for example. But Dick didn't spend twenty years
establishing institutes to embroider his initial vision; he tossed it
out, then (largely) went on to other things, e.g. the then-nascent
discipline of biotechnology. 

I certainly agree, however, with your implication that
experimentalists not guided and disciplined (restrained?) by sound
theory can go dashing madly off in all directions. You can't zero-base
research, saying if an experiment fails "Oh well! What shall we try
now?" You have to make each step, whether it derive positive or
negative data, a step in a process that steadily closes in on a
discovery. Of course that's bitterly hard to do, involving as it does
elegant experimental design. It's much easier to keep the grant money
coming in by fighting little skirmishes on the frontiers or the
knowledge war, rather than marching right for the enemy capital!

In fact I'm considering working this into a new book. Some years ago I
made friends with a lady who had a Ph.D. in statistical analysis, and
with whom I worked at an R&D agency. She was astonished at the
percentage of other scientists' experiments that were so poorly
designed from a statistical/epistemological viewpoint that any data
they derived were a priori invalidated. And these were Ph.D.'s
themselves, with decades of experience! The more I think about this,
the more it chills me. How many "scientific facts" can really be
counted on? 

Thanks for the link to Smart Paper. There are several people working
on this, including the guy who invented the laser printer (and had to
fight Xerox for years before they'd make the invention that made 'em
billions). As it happens, I just sent my publishers an E-mail talking
about mods to a second edition of Nanocosm, including hot new stuff.
Smart Paper is a strong candidate for this.

Don't write off nanotech across the board: wait a bit and see what
happens. It's early days yet; the miracles are still gestating. I think
it's axiomatic that our new understanding of how matter behaves and
self-assembles at the atomic scale simply has to transform everything
-- not only those technical revolutions you list (plastics, computers
&c) but new areas we can dimly imagine now. Things will start, indeed
already have started, with incremental improvements that users will
never see as nanotech. In 3-5 years we'll see the start of whole new
product categories, such as fullerene "Smalley Struts" with fabulously
high structural efficiency. Still, I can see that in a subsequent
edition, I'll have to make my case more strongly, rather than assuming
that all intelligent readers must agree! 

If I were an investor, I'd pick up the phone and talk with Doug
Perovic at U of T. Ask him about a company called Integran
Technologies, which I heard about only in April, too late to put in
this edition of the book. They're making metals whose nanocrystals are
virtually perfect, making these materials far close to theoretical
strength and hardness limits than any alloy produced to date. Doug
showed me a film of what looked like tinfoil that can stop a bullet.

You're certainly bang on about non-technical factors (regulation and
other laws, finance, marketing &c) often proving more decisive in new
technology than ideas themselves. That's particularly true in medicine,
where people are much more cautious about certain innovations, but
it's also true generally. If the dot-bomb saw a whole bunch of dumb
ideas get financing (I mean, millions of dollars for a barbecue
portal?!) today's climate sees a lot of great ideas starve to death
through under-capitalization. Perhaps unreasonably, I have faith that
the best ideas will win out in the end. But that wasn't true of the
Stanley Steamer, was it? And General Motors deliberately sabotaged all
those clean, efficient electric streetcar systems in many U.S. and
Canadian cities, replacing them with ghastly diesel buses. Sometimes
virtue doesn't prevail.

I too loved the Cool Chips technology. But I've had tack-spitting rage
from a technical editor about my tongue-in-cheek suggestion that a
Maxwell Demon might be a Cool Chips corollary! Of course as with any
air conditioner, entropy in the larger sense would be increased; but it
still might be possible to make a local Maxwell Demon that reversed
entropy locally and temporarily. A kind of reverse kinetic osmosis, if
you will: a large-area gate that transmits energetic molecules
preferentially in one direction. Just because something's
counterintuitive doesn't mean it's impossible!

Gotta go catch some rays on the deck - beer is cold and weather is

inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #29 of 133: It's all done with mirrors... (kafclown) Mon 2 Jun 03 17:12
So Bill, if you were a college student interested in being part of the new 
wave of nanotechnology and inventions that are sure to follow, what 
disciplines should you be studying?  Where should you be going to school?
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #30 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 2 Jun 03 17:56
Materials science, I think. Or instrumntation: whatever would lead me
to understanding, using, and designing AFMs, STMs, and the like. Or
else I'd work on my tan, chase members of the opposite sex (or same sex
if I were that way inclined), write poetry, talk to everyone who'd
talk back to me, read every book in the bookstore, learn to connect the
previously unconnected, and thus prepare to be a science writer
documenting what others greater than I were doing. 
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #31 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 2 Jun 03 18:00
Sorry, KAFCLOWN, I didn't completely answer your question. Where to go
to school? You could do worse than stay local for your undergrad. Then
for a grad degree: UCLA, UCSB, UBC, Gottingen, or anywhere in
Switzerland. Avoid Harvard, it's humility-challenged and weighted
toward letting in offspring of alumni. Rice and Rensslaer are both
great. But venue isn't that important. Find someone you admire,
wherever that may be, and go sit at her or his feet. 
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #32 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Mon 2 Jun 03 23:17

Doesn't the degree depend on what yu want to do with it. For example,
Materials Science may be helpful but not for medical applications. THe
convergence of physics, chemistry and biology is implied in materials
science but it's the biological part that requires a lot of work.

No matter...a good MBA or Attorney will profit as much if not more than
any researcher or entreprenuer at least more reliabably. Getting into a
technology field to make big bucks does require a mentor, preferably a
giant with a Nobel medal.

But the really big bucks folks are the VC which usually require an MBA.

ANd more importantly, they get to ask tought questions of all the
competitors instead of worrying about what the next guy is doing and if
they can make the next payroll.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #33 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Tue 3 Jun 03 09:15
Hi, Airman! To some extent you're right: no sense investing seven
years to get a doctorate in metallurgy-based nanotech, if it's medical
apps you're after. Or is that true? Not, I opine, as much in
nanosci/nanotech as it has been in other disciplines to date. I could
imagine a MatSci Ph.D. developing such expertise in ultra-smooth
nanosurfaces that he or she would be in as great demand at a biochip
firm such as Affymetrix as at Integran, which uses forced-crystal
nanotechnology to develop super-strong metal alloys. 

One of the beauties of a situation such as nanosci/tech today is its
demolition of long-cherished barriers that each discipline has built
around itself. Of course the pendulum will swing, the splitters will
once more gain the ascendancy, and we'll see a forest of new fields
such as, oh, nano/pico/bio/architectronic/spintronic-engineering. But
at the moment, it's an exciting time to be in nanotech with any
qualifications whatsoever. 

And it ain't all beer & skittles for the MBA! My wife has a four-year
degree in journalism from a good school plus an MBA from a great
school, and she's endured one jerk boss after another for the last
seventeen years. At the moment she's CEO of a software startup; no big
bucks yet, but she's having the most fun she's ever had in business,
along with some of the biggest risks. At least she's finallyh running
her own show. It's interesting to me, whose book before Nanocosm was on
the business aspects of high-tech, to see a startup process at close
quarters like this. 
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #34 of 133: Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Wed 4 Jun 03 06:48
So let's talk a bit about the business side of nanotech. How would you
compare and contrast it with existing high-tech (computers, biotech,
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #35 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Wed 4 Jun 03 08:57
Hi, Betsy! Glad to have you back. This answer could be book-length,
but in a nutshell: nanotech has a head start compared to the early-days
history of other technologies. DC power took two generations from
discovery of generation techniques to the first electrification of big
cities; microcircuitry 12-20 years to move from the space program into
the commercial arena, &c. Nanotech, being the product of existing
science and the STM/AFM nanoscope family, need only follow the
well-worn paths toward commercialization already developed for physics,
chemistry, MatSci and the like. For the first nano-products, neither
consumers nor VCs will really care they're dealing with nanotech;
they'll see only incremental benefits. This is the path followed by
Air-D-Fence, InMat's air-barrier elastomer. 

As the public (including VCs) become aware that these various benefits
 must be ascribed to nanotechnology, however, the existence of
nanotech in other potential products will be seen as a benefit - to the
point where simply sticking "nano" in a description of the enabling
technology will be all the rage, justified or not. "Nano" will be a
buzzword; in fact it's nearly there already. Sort of like "organic" or
"green" today. 
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #36 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Wed 4 Jun 03 09:53
Yep, that's what bothers me. Everything that can't be seen due to it's
small size claims to be part of the nanocosm.

Worse. A lot of these technologies like the smart paper have been
developing for decades and have known dependencies on computing
technologies such as memory size, weight and power.

Then there is the question of profitability which is why most companies
are going the MEMS route which is a whole lot easier to build something.
Fractional horsepower motors - rotary and jet - are emerging from the
University labs in a new configuration and threaten to replace batteries
of all sizes, especially the AAA to D size cells.

But the current profitability lies in sensors.

Bill, the book is a great example - in my humble opinion - of the
triumph of style over substance. Gone where the time charts, technology
dependancies were rarely found, and references for further research were
thin. Yet, the personalities showed through quite clearly and the
technology seemed to be focused on what might immediately be investable
but not necessarily available at your local store or even by Internet

Obviously, the rapidly changing business climate will play a role in
your next revision of the book. What can we look forward to?

inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #37 of 133: Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Thu 5 Jun 03 05:51
Well, I think the book was *supposed* to be an overview that gave a
feel for the climate, not a scientific tome, although there was a fair
bit of science tucked into the corners. It's the sort of thing that
makes the book readable in the business-book market; My sense is that
the book was aimed at the business world folks who want an idea about
where nanotechnology and nanoscience are and where they are going in
the near future. 

You do touch on one thing that bothered me about the initial hype for
Nanotechnology, the idea that everything will get solved on a
nanoscale. I suspect some things are going to work better at the
microscale. Take the example of a nano-duster, something that
decomposes dust particles. Dust is composed of something like 1/3 dead
skin flakes. How's a nano-machine going to distinguish between dead
skin flakes on the mantle and dead skin flakes on my arm, where they
form a needed layer of protection? Seems to me that the task of
dusting is ideally performed by some sort of *micro* machine with a
wee bit of ai, that knows it is on a piece of furniture and knows it
should stay off humans (and is gracious enough to go hide when the
lights are on.)  Something with the size and brains of a cockroach,
f'rinstance. 'course, maybe you could engineer one from the nano level
up, but there might be easier ways to do it.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #38 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Thu 5 Jun 03 09:53
Airman Dave: You're right on the money in saying that nanotech has
been taking over many projects that had for years progressed nicely
without the nanotech-nametag. This happens in technical revolutions.
Formal machine operating instructions, in use since the jacquard loom
and military logistics of the 18th century. became "software" c.1950.
And by the mid-1800s, the ancient languages and datasets of of alchemy
had given way to the more exact terminology of chemistry. 

In both cases, earlier world-views had been absorbed into more modern
ones. That process, like the nano-takeover today, wasn't mere
ideological imperialism; it accurately reflected the relegation of the
earlier view to a special case. Earlier technologies are being
transcended as alchemy was transcended. 

You're right about MEMS being more important commercially in the near
term. It already is. But MEMS will unfold as largely an interim step
toward our mastery of the nanocosm. We certainly won't stop at the
micro-level, any more than we stopped at the macro-level: we'll keep

Sensors: as a category, sensors are and will continue to be important.
But they're only part of the parade of inventions, both products and
processes, that will be developed. I'd put the maximum importance of
sensors to overall nanotech at 5% or so, peaking in about three years.
Not that sensors' importance will ever go away. Nanotech exists for
many reasons, but one of the most vital is that we finally got to
directly sense (image) what had before the STM been nothing more than a
set of theoretical predictions. We knew what was in there, or felt we
did. But seeing is believing.

As for the lack of quants in the book: This is deliberate. Both I and
my target audience have our main strengths in the qualitative. Now. I
assume you have a technical education; let me caution you about one of
its greatest dangers. That is to take any kind of dreck as gospel, as
long as it's packaged as an equation or a graph. The technical
literature, both official (journals, texts) and unofficial (Web) is
full of important-looking correlations that on close examination turn
out to be a quantitive way of saying: Who knows? So watch what you
swallow. One example: the entire opus of Eric Drexler. Read the book
again for my analysis on his use of quants, which (IMHO) amounts to
nothing more than a set of impressively presented, untested
speculations. Another example, one no less true for being humorous, is

As for the business climate, you're right that this is rapidly
changing. An estimate I just heard from my Silicon Valley contacts (a
quant! Atkinson's got a quant!) is this: 55% of new VC investment in
NoCal now goes to nanotech. That's likely only going to get bigger.

Betsy: Thanks for your observations on the book; yes, this is exactly
what I wanted to do, and how I wanted to write. Interesting that you'd
echo Dave's call on the looming importance of MEMS. In this case, it
might indeed make much more technical sense to go to MEMS rather than
nanotech (viz. molecularly-catalytic dumbots) to handle dust -- at
least in the interim. Still, that's something the market must sort out:
i.e. that dreadful set of non-technical things (fear, loathing, greed
&c). People might have too deep-seated, strong, and irrational an
aversion to letting insects rattle around their living space, even
mechanical insects. The "MEMSroach" might never, if you'll forgive a
pun, come out of the closet.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #39 of 133: Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Thu 5 Jun 03 12:44
I do think you're a bit harsh on Drexler. If I'm following this right,
he was the first one to really spell out the "what-if" of
nanotechnology and *how* it might work in some detail. He may not have
gotten it all right, he may not even have gotten *most* of it right,
but how often does a first theorist get it all right the first time?
By producing a body of work that could be taken apart, argued with,
used to try to set up experiments with, etc, and popularizing it, he
was responsible for giving the field a huge push forward even if it
does end up moving in other directions.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #40 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Thu 5 Jun 03 13:02
well, he isn't the first. Smalley gave Drexler a good thrashing in
Scientific American, a new public low for an American scientist. I
expect it from the French or British though.

That said, Drexler has championed an area that requires an army of
educated people to be explorers in a new world. While his MIT custom
pedigree included majors in biology, chemistry and physics, a major feat
in itself, he has succeeded in marketing the idea of nanotechnology to
the technocommunity which is willing to extend themselves beyond their
first or second degree.

Indeed, Drexler cannot be ignored if only for the huge network of
interested folks he has created purposefully and the access he has to
all sorts of folks including Congress who writes the checks.

As to my technical background, my interest is not in the exactness of
data but the range of possibilities since the real world imposes
economics and regulatory issues that require a smorgasboard of options
and the market itself requires different shaped packages with various
options of color to suit one's taste or style du jour.

However, there are very useful charts that provide at a glance a lot of
information. One is that status of funding for various products and the
competitors within that group. Another is the numerous labs that
globally are working on the same product. Since we are dealing with
size, it would be helpful to have a visual or two on the top down vs
bottoms up approach. Most managers would love a few graphics if only to
copy it into their own Powerpoint presentations (along with a cite to
Nanocosm as the source, a nice self-promoting tool).

So the graphics doesn't need to be quantitative to be informative, but
it's nice to know where the ballpark is in the city of Nanocosm.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #41 of 133: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 5 Jun 03 15:46
Won't that become dated rather quickly?  Maybe better as a web page.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #42 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Thu 5 Jun 03 16:38
They say a saint is just a sinner with one good idea, and that the
worse the sinner, the greater the saint. I sometimes think it wouldn't
take much to make me a card-carrying Drexlerian! But I keep running
into problems in my putative conversion. I freely admit (both here and
in Nanocosm) that Drex came up with the term 'nanotechnology', and has
furthered interest in the discipline, both popularly and among
scientists. But he isn't a true theorist, as I define the term. That
proud label is best reserved for those who are rigorous enough to
support their ideas with genuine facts and real observations: to
summarize the real. Drex has never given us any new data to support his
view - which means he's not a genuine scientist. Nor has he ever given
us a working model of his nanobots - which means he's not a genuine

Unlike a true great such as Dick Feynman, Drex has spent a couple of
decades embroidering the embroidery of his original vision. In the
process - not coincidentally, I think - he's made himself a very nice
living. He's spun glorious, unproven speculations, appealing to people
terrified of death and willing to entertain the wildest possible ideas
for circumventing it. Time to put up or shut up: produce a molecular
assembler, or quit the stage. No good to anyone to hang around and say:
"It's coming! It's almost here!" To my mind, Smalley went easy on
Drex. The disgrace is not on Smalley, but on the scientific community
for putting up with this pseudo-science and unproven speculation for so
long. And continuing even now to do so. "The hottest places in Hell
are reserved for those who, in times of crisis, reserved their
neutrality" - Dante, The Divine Comedy.

You see someone like Mother Theresa toiling in the slums, cutting away
maggoty flesh from paupers with her own hands, and you say: Yes, here
is a true saint. You see a waddling bishop wearing gilded tiaras and
being shuttled about in a chauffeur-driven Rolls-Royce, and you think
something different. Produce or quit, Mr Drexler! I'll give you total
kudos for what you've done (original vision, imagination, persistence)
if you'll give me some honesty (the nanocosm has not so far permitted
the existence of the molecular assembler). 
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #43 of 133: Seahorses of the Liver (mnemonic) Thu 5 Jun 03 19:04

Bill, could you tell us what you see on the nanotech front in the near
future when it comes biological and (in particular) medical applications?
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #44 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Thu 5 Jun 03 22:36

Nanotech wil give two main things to medicine: new diagnostics and new
interventions. Diagnostics will mostly stem from surface
nanotechnology, especially the super-smooth, silicon-based surfaces
that permit a single 1-cm-square biochip to contain a million or more
individual test cells that troll for obscure protein molecules. 

As for interventions, I think of a series of paintings called The
Physician, and issued in frames (as memory serves) to doctors by Frosst
in the 1950s. One of these showed a doctor attending a sick child
while the kid's parents fret in the background. It's the 19th century,
and the message is: The doctor's main role is to reassure whomever pays
the bills. 

Since then, however, medicine has steadily increased the range of its
interventions. These range from the cellular (emprically derived
vaccines; syphilis medications) to the molecular (chelation, GC) and
now, with nanotech, down towards the atomic. Consider the 2-nm-diameter
gold nanospheres attached to 'magic bullet' antibodies, which in turn
attach themselves to a cancer patient's microtumors (some of which are
only a few cells). An hour after injection or pill-swallowing, the
tumors are encased in a seamless gold filigree. Application of infrared
radiation from a heat lamp thereupon cooks the tumors to death. 

Lesson: Medical intervention has now been taken down below the level
of the cell (microtechnology) to the level of the individual atom
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #45 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Thu 5 Jun 03 23:03
The fun part about nanotechnology is that is doesn't promise a lower
cost world. Part of this is due to the inability to eliminate the human
in the loop either in the form of a professional (Doctor, Lawyer) or
simply a human given a job (Train drivers on BART and other regional
closed systems).

Indeed, medical applications proposed under nanotechnology seem to
indicate higher costs if only to recover the R&D as well as pay for the
product and liability insurance.

Part of the beauty of computers and cell phones is that the liability
issues are minimal for the personal computers. But when a medical
product fails, a human life may be at stake.

That said, there is a decline in product or service cost over time. Just
how fast that decline is depends on the niche market, the human risk,
and the ability to produce and deliver en masse.

If nanotechnology could only solve the HMO issues...
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #46 of 133: Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Fri 6 Jun 03 08:14
I don't know that it will be higher costs. So much of the current
costs in medicine arise out of what's basically inefficiencies in our
ability to diagnose and treat. First, there are multiple series of
tests, many requiring expensive, heavy, equipment, so that either the
patient has to go from lab to lab or samples have to be shipped
around. Then you have big delays as images are developed, samples are
grown, results are analyzed visually, written descriptions are passed
around. Then you have crude treatment methods: drugs that may or may
not work, prescription levels that need to be adjusted, complex
invasive procedures involving again teams of people and truckloads of
supporting equipment, radiation and chemotherapies that involve weeks
or months of treatment, and then a whole additional layer of tests and
drugs to measure and treat side-effects  and drug interactions...

The expense of nano-medicine may be to a great extent countered by an
ability to attack *just* the problem. First, ingest the cancer
analyzer. Then, ingest the remedy. Then, a week later, ingest the
follow-up analyzer to be sure the cancer is gone. Three visits max,
three tests: analysis, treatment, cure. THe savings in paperwork
*alone* will be huge.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #47 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Fri 6 Jun 03 09:24
I think Betsy's train of thought is the correct one. This is exactly
what will happen. Of course Airman is correct in cautioning us that any
new medical treatments have risk, largely because of the medical (and
hence the legal and financial) consequences of failure. One thinks of
Jesse Gelsinger and the failed gene-therapy experiment a few years ago.
Yet this being noted, I'm with Betsy that, perhaps after  a 4-6 year
shake-in period, the net result of medical nanotech will be lowered
risks and hence lowered costs. Not as low as they could be from a
back-of-envelope calculation. Money's got to be made out of any new
idea, and the VCs and other backers will want a decent payback for
their own set of risks. But even with this necessary "capitalist
premium", the end user (patient) should get better treatment at lower
cost. We shall see!
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #48 of 133: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Fri 6 Jun 03 09:25

This is great to be able to pick your brains, Bill. Could nanotech engineer
a surface for the Space Shuttle thermal tiles that was so slippery that when
the Shuttle entered the atmosphere, it wouldn't generate enough heat to risk
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #49 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Fri 6 Jun 03 09:33
That is an old view.

You can now go to the mall and get a $1000 whole body examination using
MRI or EBT scanners.

The equipment has gotten smaller to a great extent.

Lab tests have become more sophisticated using combinatorial chemistry

However, most labs are not up to current technology.

As to imaging, I can get great digital images at the dentist now with a
lot less power than it used to take. Same applies to the larger digital

One of the problems is simply keeping up with current technologies. It's
difficult for us technologists so it becomes near impossible for Doctors
and other professionals unless they see or hear of it proven at one of
the big hospitals.

Then we have the CSI effect where more evidence than necessary is
required now due since juries want great certainty after seeing all the
technology used on the TV program, much of which most cities don't have

And I seriously doubt that the paperwork will go away. The Paperless
Office is still a pipe dream in spite of some 25 years of experimenting
as well as the advent of email and a variety of secure technologies
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #50 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Fri 6 Jun 03 09:33


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