The scale of the universe is mind-boggling to us, which makes sense since our brains are evolved to have a good understanding of a certain scale of existence. As author and scientist Richard Dawkins has put it in his books, we are medium-sized animals evolved to understand medium-sized things. The fact that some of us have managed to figure out many of the universe’s mysteries is a testament to the power and adaptability of the human brain. But it’s not just the unimaginable massive that holds great mystery to us; the world of the very tiny, the inner space of the universe, is no less fascinating or mysterious.
In the 20th century we really started to push beyond the limits that optical methods have given us to observe the smallest object we know. While a microscope can show you cells and bacteria, pushing down to the molecular or atomic level requires more advanced and specialized methods.
It’s the Little Things
Not content to simply get a look at the tiniest of tiny things, slowly the idea came about that we could build technology at the molecular scale. Eric Drexler coined the term “nanotechnology”. “Nano” refers to the scale at which this technology is built – one nanometer is one billionth of a meter, which is pretty damn small!
Drexler is one of the leading popularizers of the idea of nanotechnology, and he spoke often of building machines at the molecular scale. Imagine complex objects such as motors, gearboxes, and robotic arms built one atom at a time. We’re talking about a scale significantly smaller than that of a cell, so such machinery could have incredible applications. Drexler didn’t come up with the idea, though. Physicist Richard Feynman, for example, essentially had described the idea in the late 50s already. Either way, today the concept, potential, and practice of nanotechnology engineering is a key part of transhumanist discourse.
One subset of nanotechnology in particular gets a lot of attention. I’m talking, of course, of the nanorobot – a theoretical machine at the molecular scale that’s programmable and could do some utterly amazing things if we ever figure out how to make it. Imagine tiny robots in your body that repair damage and make sure that you stay healthy. What about nanobots that can replicate any object for you from raw material? The possible uses are virtually limitless.
Danger, Will Robinson!
Given how powerful this technology promises to be, it’s no surprise that it also holds a lot of danger – either as a result of direct military application or by accident. Be sure to check out my article in this section on some of the dangers nanotechnology may present us.
Why do Transhumanists Care?
It’s probably pretty obvious, given what I’ve just said about nanotechnology, why transhumanists make a big deal about it, but let’s break it down anyway. Transhumanists are mainly concerned about gaining control over our own human destiny and transcending the limitations of our bodies. Nanotechnology promises control and manipulation of the fundamental structures of matter. The implications are radical and there’s hardly another science or technology that transhumanists care about that won’t be influenced by nanotechnology some day.
In fact, one day we may have bodies not just containing nanobots, but actually being composed of them entirely. One vision of the future has basically everything made from reprogrammable nanobots. It’s a far-out idea, but it’s right at home in the world of nanotechnology.
What’s in this Section?
In this section you’ll find articles that cover nearly all types of nanotechnology. I look at the speculative future of nanotechnology as well as nanotechnology that already exists as you read this. You may see some technologies discussed that are technically too big to be classified as “nano” technology, but over time the term’s meaning has drifted a bit to encompass things that are on the cellular scale as well. As nanobots and true nanotechnology become a reality, we’ll probably see the usage tighten up again.
So for now this section can be thought of as the “really small technology” section. If it’s microscopic, I probably filed it here. So read on and enjoy the little things in life. The really, absolutely tiny things.