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 Fraser. Best, Bill
Where's the Flying Car (airman) Mon 2 Jun 03 11:48
Bill 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 research. 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 http://www.thecabal.org/gurps/rareitems/smart.html 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 use?
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 sunny! Bill
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?
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.
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.
Where's the Flying Car (airman) Mon 2 Jun 03 23:17
Bill, 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.
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.
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, etc...?)
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.
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 order. Obviously, the rapidly changing business climate will play a role in your next revision of the book. What can we look forward to? Dave
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.
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 digging. 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 Dilbert. 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.
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.
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.
Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Thu 5 Jun 03 15:46
Won't that become dated rather quickly? Maybe better as a web page.
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 engineer. 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).
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?
William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Thu 5 Jun 03 22:36
Mnemonic: 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 (nanotechology).
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...
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.
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!
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 self-destruction?
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 techniques. 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 machines. 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 yet. 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
Where's the Flying Car (airman) Fri 6 Jun 03 09:33
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