Can any community of researchers remain unaware of the idea of nanotechnology today? Consider that the U.S. National Science Foundation launched the National Nanotechnology Initiative in 2002, accompanied by a website with a special section for kids and a projected annual funding that exceeds $600M. Consider also that copies of Michael Crichton's 2002 book Prey: A Novel, in which he introduces the notion of predatory nanobots, have been lapped up members of both sexes at $27 per volume. Not surprisingly, pundits have pronounced on the future of nanotechnology in numerous publications. Real as well as virtual journals on nanotechnology have sprouted, and not a week passes by when either a new conference on nanotechnology is not announced or a new book on nanotechnology is not published. Nanotechnology is shaping up as a megaideology - for the solution of any problem afflicting humanity - in the minds of many researchers as well as those who control research funds; and it could very well become a gigaideology when fully coupled in the United States with the theme of homeland security.
Skepticism about nanotechnology as a panacea has also been offered, on economic, environmental, as well as ethical grounds. Indeed, beginning in the Iron Age and perhaps even earlier, our history provides numerous instances of false promises and unexpectedly deleterious outcomes of technological bonanzas. Yet, there is no doubt that we are materially better off than our great-grandparents were, leave aside our immediate evolutionary precursor species - and mostly because of technological progress. Therefore, even though nanotechnology may be a double-edged sword, we may be able to wield it in such a way as to cause the least harm all around.
Nanotechnology spans a vast mindscape in the world of academic, industrial, and governmental research; and I must stress that it is still in an embryonic stage despite a history that, some researchers say, spans two decades. The decision by both SPIE and ASME to launch the Handbook of Nanotechnology series therefore came at a very appropriate time.
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