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Intelligent Agent

Reprinted with permission from Foresight Update 20 (foresight@cup.portal.com):



Dr. Jack Gibbons is the Director of the Office of Science & Technology Policy, which coordinates science and technology policy throughout government. The following is an excerpt of his address to the National Conference on Manufacturing Needs of US Industry, held at the National Institute of Standards and Technology.

Nanoscience has become an engineering practice. Based on recent theoretical and experimental advances in nanoscience and nanotechnology, precise atomic and molecular control in the synthesis of solid-state three-dimensional nanostructures is now possible. The volume of such structures is about a billionth that of structures on the micron scale.

The next step is the emergence of nanotechnology. The stage is being set, I believe, for actual manufacture of a wide variety and range of custom-made products based on the ability to manipulate individual atoms and molecules during the manufacturing process. The ability to synthesize devices such as molecular wires, resistors, diodes, and photosynthesis elements to be inserted in nanoscale machines is now emerging from fundamental nanoscience. Already the use of optical materials assembled at the molecular level has revolutionized response time, energy losses, and transport efficiency in nanoscale materials.

Next, molecular manufacturing for mass production of miniature switches or valves or motors or accelerometers, all at affordable prices, is a genuine possibility in the not so distant future. This new technology could fuel a powerful economic engine providing new sources of jobs and wealth and technology spillovers.

Further fundamental understanding of basic physical phenomena at the quantum level will be needed to understand and reach these kinds of technological opportunities. Some of the areas in which knowledge must be deepened are superlattices and multiquantum wells, localization effects of electron and light waves, flux patterns and their pinning, and dynamics in superconductors, as well as further quantum mechanical analysis of nanostructured systems. This basic scientific understanding will find a very broad range of technological applications, from energy storage and generation, to magnetic storage and recording, to supercomputers. To an ex-physicist like me, these prospects for scientific exploration are exhilarating, and our new understanding of a complex symbiotic relation between science and technology - rather than a simple hand-off - makes the prospects still even more exciting. But my post-physics years of starting with new high-technology companies beyond physics and then doing policy work at the Office of Technology Assessment, and my present deep immersion in policy at the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy, remind me that the reduction of leading-edge technologies to practice is a process which, as you so full well know, can be risky and arduous. It's a long, long way from invention to profitable production.

Cooperative efforts by government and industry to advance technology can help fill that gap. One of this Administration's top priorities is to form closer working partnerships with industry, as well as with universities, state and local governments, and workers, to strengthen America's industrial competitiveness and create jobs.

From Foresight Update 20, a newsletter on nanotechnology published by the Foresight Institute, PO Box 61058, Palo Alto, CA 94306, USA; foresight@foresight.org.



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