Journalist and author Douglas Mulhall discussed the latest developments in nanotechnology, a science he describes as "a basic technological building block on which a whole new societal range of technologies are being developed." According to Mulhall, the convergence of several disciplines, including genetics, robotics, artificial intelligence, and nanotechnology will lead to revolutionary products that will transform the world.
One such breakthrough, recently announced by Palo Alto start-up Nanosolar Inc., involves a new kind of solar photovoltaic cell. Mulhall reported that the company has used "quantum dots" (artificial atoms) to develop a photovoltaic material that can be printed onto flexible sheets, or as the University of Toronto has theorized, put into "solar paint" (expected in stores by 2006). The cheap production costs coupled with the greater efficiency of these nano solar cells could make solar power an attractive alternative to conventional electricity production, Mulhall said.
On a more cautionary note, Mulhall highlighted what he considered to be potential negatives of nanotechnology: unforeseen consequences, engineered viruses and "gray goo." Mulhall believes a "gray goo" scenario, in which runaway self-replicating nanobots consume all carbon-based matter, is not feasible. Engineered viruses, however, "pose one of the greatest risks" because they can be created by small numbers of people with fairly primitive equipment, he concluded.