Historian of the future, Charles Ostman returned to the show to discuss the latest developments in nanotechnology. The technology, which involves the manipulation of matter at the molecular level, has really taken off and there are now over 1,000 companies involved in the field, he said. Some applications can be used to create electricity, such as a laminated organic material that can be painted on houses to function like solar panels, he detailed. Carbon nanofibers, which have "spectacular tensile strength," could be used in auto manufacturing to make lighter and stronger cars which would need less fuel, he added.
Molecule-sized machines may be able to go in and correct medical problems such as aneurysms and cancer, and eventually replace some surgeries, Ostman noted. Nanotechnology is also making its way into fabrics, he shared. In one design, built-in sensors can detect pregnancy in women wearing the garment, by reading their pheromone levels. Military uses, he said, include a kind of "smart garment" that can harden up around an impact zone and form a plastic membrane around a bullet. (MIT's Institute for Soldier Nanotechnologies has been exploring many of these projects.)
Ostman estimated that only about 50% of nanotechnology ventures have been made public and that the military is keeping many projects secret. He expressed concern that weaponry applications such as microbes that only attack specific genetic profiles could backfire and mutate into the general public. "We need to have a spiritual revolution to accompany our technological evolution," Ostman commented.