Ibrahim B. Syed, Ph. D., D. Sc.
Clinical Professor of Medicine
University of Louisville School of Medicine, and
7102 W. Shefford Lane
Islam encourages the use of science and the scientific method. Acquisition of knowledge is obligatory on every Muslim, male and female. In Islam, science and technology should be used for moral ends and serve all legitimate needs of mankind. Moreover, both are viewed as yet another means to understand and see the power and glory of God.
"He it is Who created for you all that is in the earth." [Qur'an 2:29]
"It is your Lord, the Most Bounteous, Who taught by the pen, taught man that which he knew not..." [Qur'an 96:2-5]
"We shell show them our Signs on the horizons and within themselves until it will be manifest unto them that it is the Truth..." [Qur'an 41:53]
Michael Crichton, the author of Jurassic Park, Timeline, 'The Andromeda Strain', 'Invasion of the body snatchers' and other novels has lately authored a terrific novel titled PREY. This is the most compelling novel that tells the story of a mechanical plague and the desperate efforts of a handful of scientists to stop it. In PREY Michael Crichton utilizes the latest scientific facts and takes us into the emerging realms of nanotechnology and artificial distributed intelligence -- in a story of breathtaking suspense. In this novel, he takes three emerging technologies - genetics, distributed intelligence and nanotechnology and brews up a terrifying tale of science gone well skewed.
The main character in the novel is Jack Forman who is in charge of PREDPREY, a program that makes cameras the size of atoms swarm together and act like they are hunting something. The story starts off with software expert, Jack living the life of a house-husband after being fired from a shady Silicon Valley firm (Xymos Corporation). He suspects that his wife Julia (a high-powered computer executive) is having an affair. She is spending more and more time at her firm's (Xymos Corporation) experimental fabrication plant in the barren desert of Nevada. Xymos is having a few problems with its prototype nano-device and so Jack is hired to investigate. It turns out that since he's been gone, people have made changes to the codes, and they haven't been good changes. To make matters worse, Forman has learned that they've allowed a swarm to get outside. They can't get it back to the lab, since it won't respond to their communications. A cloud of nanoparticles -- micro-robots -- has escaped from the laboratory. Jack discovers his wife's firm has created self-replicating nanotechnology--a literal swarm of microscopic machines. Originally meant to serve as a military eye in the sky (spy cameras), the swarm has now escaped into the environment and is seemingly intent on killing the scientists trapped in the facility. This cloud is self-sustaining and self-reproducing. It is intelligent and learns from experience. Jack discovers even worse news when he finds that the rapidly evolving swarms are carnivorous and reproducing because they were created using organic materials. For all practical purposes, it is alive. It has been programmed as a predator. It is evolving swiftly, becoming more deadly with each passing hour. Every attempt to destroy it has failed. So the people in the lab have become the Prey. The fact that they can kill now makes a risky situation even worse, and then to top it off, they are adaptable, learning and evolving at a rate that far surpasses anything in human technology. Forman also learns that his wife isn't what she seems. Crichton then pits man against the swarm of nano-particles in a time-constrained thriller.
The film version of Prey is now in development at Twentieth Century Fox. No details yet. The shooting of the movie film was finished on July 21, ahead of schedule. Director Dick Donner's film for Paramount is now in post-production, with a release date planned for 2003
Human beings have advanced their lives with technology. Man has built huge dams, bridges and jet aircraft as well as microscopically small things, like the computer chips, which are affecting nearly every aspect of our lives, and the genetically modified bacteria that create new drugs for us.
In the 21st century, we are plunging forward into a new era of technological power, one that offers enormous promise for the future and enormous dangers as well.
Scientists are planning to create tiny computers, smaller than specks of dust, programmed to travel in a cloud over a country like Iraq and send back pictures. Unlike robot aircraft, this camera can’t be shot down; bullets will pass right through it.
Such tiny computers will weaken in time, however they can be programmed to be self-reproducing, to replenish themselves. The risk is these tiny computers begin to evolve, and the aggregate cloud becomes a death-dealing swarm that threatens mankind – in effect, a mechanical plague.
What is Nanotechnology ?
most basic form, nanotechnology refers to the manipulation of materials at the
atomic or molecular level. The name derives from the nanometer, a scientific
measurement unit representing a billionth of a meter, or three to four toms
wide. Scientists are learning how to connect atoms and molecules together to
create nano-scale mechanisms that create switches or transistors, or even small
machines that can perform complex tasks.
Nanotechnology gives scientists the ability to create new materials, atom by
atom. With increasingly more powerful microscopes, scientists can see molecules
mere nanometers -
Most discussions about nanotechnology deal with the futuristic concept of nanomachines or nanobots: microscopic devices that can themselves carry out tasks at the atomic or sub-atomic level. Nanotechnology, also called molecular manufacturing, is "a branch of engineering that deals with the design and manufacture of extremely small electronic circuits and mechanical devices built at the molecular level of matter." The goal of nanotechnology is to be able to manipulate materials at the atomic level to build the smallest possible electromechanical devices, given the physical limitations of matter. Much of the mechanical systems we know how to build will be transferred to the molecular level as some atomic analogy.
The 21st century gives a typical vision: “Nanotechnologists will be building our cars one molecule at a time, invading our bloodstream to declog our arteries, and replicating themselves thousands of times over.”
Nanorobot is a computer-controlled robotic device constructed of nanometer-scale components to molecular precision, usually microscopic in size (often abbreviated as "nanobot"). This reminds one of the 1966 film Fantastic Voyage, in which a team of scientists (including Raquel Welch) are miniaturized, placed in a tiny submarine and injected into a sick man’s bloodstream. Nanotechnology invariably involves work on a much smaller scale than the average blood cell.
If you can construct objects at the molecular level, you can theoretically build anything, since all objects are made up of molecules.
Translating from concept to practice is trickier. While many plans have been drawn up for simple nanomachines such as gears and motors, actually building them is still fiendishly difficult and rather expensive. The most famous “working” nanomachine is probably the nanoguitar constructed by Cornell University researchers in 1997. Just 10,000 nanometers wide, the nanoguitar has six strings, each just 50 nanometers wide. Of course, without a nano-ear to listen to its 10MHz output, the guitar is fairly useless, but it demonstrates that simple machines can be constructed on a nanometric scale.
Producing nanomachines on a commercial basis will undoubtedly prove more challenging, since atomic manipulation, while not theoretically contrary to the laws of physics, is still extremely slow and costly.
The most widely discussed long-term solution is to make the nanomachines self-replicating. Control mechanisms for such systems (how does a machine know how to build a copy of itself, and how does it know when to stop doing so?) are still in their very early stages, and once again theory is a fair way ahead of practical reality.
Charles Vest, the president of MIT, observed recently. “The gathering nanotechnology revolution will eventually make possible a huge leap in computing power, vastly stronger yet much lighter materials, advances in medical technologies, as well as devices and processes with much lower energy and environmental costs.
Nanotechnology may well rival the development of the transistor or telecommunications in its ultimate impact.”
Many of the more recent practical applications of nanotechnology has been in the area of materials research, but scientists believe that transistors could also eventually be built in this way, paving the way for computational technologies which don’t depend on silicon and which can pack even more circuitry into microscopic spaces.
Nanoshells are tiny particles that can manipulate light, and can be used to transform medical procedures ranging from cancer therapy to medical testing and drug delivery.
Nanoshells are ideal for biotechnology applications because they are biocompatible, can be altered and modified and absorb light strongly in the near-infrared region, where human tissue is most transparent.
Nanoshells can be tagged and delivered specifically to tumor cells but leave healthy cells undamaged. Nanoshells can reduce the amount of time it takes to conduct medical tests from several days into a matter of seconds and nanoshells incorporated into temperature-sensitive polymers can be triggered to release a chemical using infrared light, providing a patient with the ability to control the release of medicine that requires periodic dispensing.
A new bandage 3
A new bandage that imitates
nature's own healing is used for minor cuts to gunshot wounds. The bandage, a
flannel-like material, stops bleeding immediately and can be left in place to be
absorbed by the body. This new material is developed by spinning a compound
naturally found in blood into a bandage that can minimize blood loss and be
absorbed by the body, according to an article in the Feb. 12 issue of Nano
Letters, a journal of the American Chemical Society.
Science fiction into reality 4
Imagine a world in which cars can be assembled molecule-by-molecule, garbage can be disassembled and turned into beef steaks, and people can be operated on and healed by cell-sized robots. Sound like science fiction? Well, with current semiconductor chip manufacturing encroaching upon the nanometer scale and the ability to move individual atoms at the IBM Almaden laboratory, we are fast approaching the technological ability to fabricate productive machines and devices that can manipulate things at the atomic level. From this ability we will be able to develop molecular-sized computers and robots, which would give us unprecedented control over matter and the ability to shape the physical world as we see fit.
Nanofabrication techniques with applications in fiber optics, biotechnology, microelectromechanical systems (MEMS), "tiny mechanical devices such as sensors, valves, gears, mirrors, and actuators embedded in semiconductor chips", are particularly interesting because they are but a mere step away from the molecular machines envisioned by nanotechnology. MEMS are already being used in automobile airbag systems as accelerometers to detect collisions and will become an increasing part of our everyday technology. In 1986, a researcher from MIT named K. Eric Drexler already foresaw the advent of molecular machines and published a book, Engines of Creation, in which he outlined the possibilities and consequences of this emerging field, which he called nanotechnology. Drexler has written numerous other books on the subject, such as Unbounding the Future, and has founded the Foresight Institute, which is a nonprofit organization dedicated to the responsible development of nanotechnology. It hosts conferences and competitions to raise the awareness of nanotechnology and the ethical issues involved in its development.
Today, nanotechnology research and development is quite wide spread in numerous universities. The U.S. government has created an organization, the National Nanotechnology Initiative (NNI), to monitor and guide research and development in this field.
As envisioned by Drexler, as well as many others, this would lead to nanocomputers, no bigger than bacteria and nanomachines, also known as nanites (from Star Trek: The Next Generation), which could be used as a molecular assemblers and disassemblers to build, repair, or tear down any physical or biological objects.
In essence, the purpose of developing nanotechnology is to have tools to work on the molecular level analogous to the tools we have at the macroworld level. Like the robots we use to build cars and the construction equipment we use to build skyscrapers, nanomachines will enable us to create a plethora of goods and increase our engineering abilities to the limits of the physical world.
It would not take much of a leap, then, to imagine disassemblers dismantling garbage to be recycled at the molecular level, and then given to assemblers for them to build atomically perfect engines. Stretching this vision a bit, you can imagine a Star Trek type replicator, which could reassemble matter in the form of a juicy steak, given the correct blueprints and organization of these nanomachines.
A laboratory-scale "in vivo nanoscope" capable of providing atomic resolution, real time movies of happenings inside living cells in intact living animals. This nanoscope is a hybrid of conventional technology and early (pre-assembler) nanotechnology, yet provides an enormous leap in the ability of biologists to understand the workings of cells and develop medical therapies.
Just given the basic premises of nanotechnology, you can imagine the vast potential of this technology. Some of it's more prominent benefits would be: Precision Manufacturing, Material Reuse, Miniaturization.
The medical applications are: Pharmaceutical Creation, Disease Treatment, and Nanomachine-assisted Surgery.
Environmental applications are in Toxin Cleanup, Recycling and Resource Consumption Reduction.
Nanomedicine deals with (1) the comprehensive monitoring, control, construction, repair, defense, and improvement of all human biological systems, working from the molecular level, using engineered nanodevices and nanostructures; (2) the science and technology of diagnosing, treating, and preventing disease and traumatic injury, of relieving pain, and of preserving and improving human health, using molecular tools and molecular knowledge of the human body; (3) the employment of molecular machine systems to address medical problems, using molecular knowledge to maintain and improve human health at the molecular scale. Cosmetic nanosurgery done with simple nanomachines (no on-board computers, for example) could change hair color, cause hair to grow or not to grow in specific locations, keep teeth clean and skin smooth, etc., all far more effectively than with current day treatments. Looking somewhat further in the future at more radical modifications of the human body through nanotechnology, Edward Reifman describes dentistry with assembler-fabricated teeth, and even with teeth and jaws made of diamond.
long term, we hope to be able to build small nanorobots which can search out and
destroy cancerous tumors when they comprise just one or two cells “Or small
drilling machines which dissolve clots.”
Along with all the obvious manufacturing benefits, there are also many potential medical and environmental benefits. With nanomachines, we could better design and synthesize pharmaceuticals; we could directly treat diseased cells like cancer; we could better monitor the life signs of a patient; or we could use nanomachines to make microscopic repairs in hard-to-operate-on areas of the body. With regard to the environment, we could use nanomachines to clean up toxins or oil spills, recycle all garbage, and eliminate landfills, thus reducing our natural resource consumption.
The downside to these benefits is the possibility of assemblers and disassemblers being used to create weapons, be used as weapons themselves, or for them to run wild and wreak havoc. Other, less invasive, but equally perilous uses of nanotechnology would be in electronic surveillance.
Weapons are an obvious negative use of nanotechnology. Simply extending today's weapon capabilities by miniaturizing guns, explosives, and electronic components of missiles would be deadly enough. However, with nanotechnology, armies could also develop disassemblers to attack physical structures or even biological organism at the molecular level. A similar hazard would be if general-purpose disassemblers got loose in the environment and started disassembling every molecule they encountered. This is known as "The Gray Goo Scenario." Furthermore, if nanomachines were created to be self-replicating and there were a problem with their limiting mechanism, they would multiply endlessly like viruses. Even without considering the extreme disaster scenarios of nanotechnology, we can find plenty of potentially harmful uses for it. It could be used to erode our freedom and privacy; people could use molecular sized microphones, cameras, and homing beacons to monitor and track others.
Ethical Issues & Analysis
With such awesome potential dangers inherent in nanotechnology, we must seriously examine its potential consequences. Granted, nanotechnology may never become as powerful and prolific as envisioned by its evangelists, but as with any potential, near-horizon technology, we should go through the exercise of formulating solutions to potential ethical issues before the technology is irreversibly adopted by society. We must examine the ethics of developing nanotechnology and create policies that will aid in its development so as to eliminate or at least minimize its damaging effects on society.
Nanosensor -- a chemical or physical sensor constructed using nanoscale components, usually microscopic or submicroscopic in size.
brings science fiction into everyday life 6
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