WASHINGTON On the eve of the second anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shimon Peres told the World Nano-Economic Congress here that the fate of the world rest in the hands of technologists.
The Israeli politician and former prime minister heartily endorsed nanotechnology, saying it could among other things ensure Israel's security. He called for "the use of science and technology to enhance peace" throughout the world.
"In the Middle East, land for peace is wrong. It should be science for peace," Peres declared in a Wednesday (Sept.10) keynote.
He recalled that 50 million people were killed in wars during the 20th century. The justification for the slaughter was the protection of ideologies and territories. "Land has lost its importance" said Peres, "After 9/11, a new kind of global war has been started that knows no boundaries. And the only way to fight terrorists is to fight the reasons for prejudice and blindness."
Peres called on Israel and the United States to establish "islands of knowledge," with modern universities guiding foreign policy of their respective countries rather than government ministries.
Peres equated nanotechnology with the unleashing of the atom. Instead of limiting that effort to create weapons of mass destruction, he said atoms should be harnessed through nanotechnology for peaceful purposes.
"We must unveil the invisible materials we cannot see with our naked eyes so as to learn the great secrets of our lives. We can learn how to learn while keeping intact our traditions and cultures without killing each other," said Peres.
He contended that science can lead the way, and nanotechnology is at the forefront of this endeavor.
Nevertheless, nanotechnology as defined by the popular press has lately received a bad rap, hyped as the next "dot.com", only with legs. Some observers believe that the many interrelationships between business, technology, science and government will make nanotechnology a tough sell.
"This is not an integrated industry," said Christine Peterson, president of the Foresight Institute, which promotes molecular nanotechnology.
In her presentation here, Peterson explained what's behind nanotech "buzz": "It's a sexy new label for chemistry, materials science and applied physics as we start working at the molecular level.
Because near-term applications will be largely invisible in existing products offering higher strength, safety, sensitivity, accuracy and overall performance the nanotech phenomemon is an incremental one, not revolutionary.
"Individuals who can look at each experimental phenomenon, picture a new technology and identify an early business opportunity are hard to come by," said Peterson.
Peterson said U.S. investment is nanotechology has been solid, and backers are able to recognize and discount the hype. European support remains uncertain.
Longer term, one goal is to make molecular machines. "We want to be able to design and build nanosystems for manufacturing complex, atomically-precise products of any size from cubic-micron mainframes to aircraft carriers," Peterson said. "There is a probable international competition for economic and military advantage across the world."
Taiwan boost nano-R&D
Taiwan's Industrial Technology Research Institute is forging ahead with early product development. Executive Director Jih Chang Yang disagreed that the real payoff for nanotechnology lies in the very long term. "We believe the marketplace is already the focal point for nanotechnology today."
Among the applications being addressed by the Institute now are electronics, photonics, energy and biomedical. "Taiwan's nanotechnology program is focused on industrialization," said Yang. Begun last year, the $650 million, six-year program is earmarking 62 percent of funding for industrialization while the remainder will cover academic research, R&D facilities and human resource development.
Yang projected total market size for products differentiated by nanotechnology made by Taiwan manufacturers to be $19 billion by 2008, with 43 percent in materials and chemicals, 22 percent in metals and machinery and 35 percent in electronics.
"The true power of nanotechnology is not so much in the creation of new industries like semiconductors than in its impact on almost all industries, existing or new," said Yang. "Never was an R&D topic so vigorously pursued by all of the technologically significant countries of the world, and the coming global marketplace battles will be some of the fiercest ever."
That bodes well for Peres' charge to the Congress as long as the focus remains on atoms for peace, not bombs.