The Internet of NanoThings

Nanosensors and the Internet of Nanothings” ranks 1st in a list of ten “technological innovations of 2016” established by no less than the World Economic Forum Meta-Council on Emerging Technologies [sic].

The World Economic Forum, best known for its meetings in Davos, is establishing this list because:

New technology is arriving faster than ever and holds the promise of solving many of the world’s most pressing challenges, such as food and water security, energy sustainability and personalized medicine. In the past year alone, 3D printing has been used for medical purposes; lighter, cheaper and flexible electronics made from organic materials have found practical applications; and drugs that use nanotechnology and can be delivered at the molecular level have been developed in medical labs.

However, uninformed public opinion, outdated government and intergovernmental regulations, and inadequate existing funding models for research and development are the greatest challenges in effectively moving new technologies from the research lab to people’s lives. At the same time, it has been observed that most of the global challenges of the 21st century are a direct consequence of the most important technological innovations of the 20st century.

Understanding the implications of new technologies are crucial both for the timely use of new and powerful tools and for their safe integration in our everyday lives. The objective of the Meta-council on Emerging Technologies is to create a structure that will be key in advising decision-makers, regulators, business leaders and the public globally on what to look forward to (and out for) when it comes to breakthrough developments in robotics, artificial intelligence, smart devices, neuroscience, nanotechnology and biotechnology.

Given the global reach and influence of the WEF, it is indeed perfectly believable that decision-makers, regulators, business leaders and the public could be influenced by this list.

Believable and therefore rather worrying for – at least the first item – is, to stay polite, complete utter nonsense backed by zero evidence. The argument is so weak, disjointed and illogical that it is hard to challenge. Here are some of the claims made to support the idea that “Nanosensors and the Internet of Nanothings” is a transformative  technological innovations of 2016.

Scientists have started shrinking sensors from millimeters or microns in size to the nanometer scale, small enough to circulate within living bodies and to mix directly into construction materials. This is a crucial first step toward an Internet of Nano Things (IoNT) that could take medicine, energy efficiency, and many other sectors to a whole new dimension.

Except that there is no nanoscale sensor that can circulate through the body and communicate with internet (anyone knows why sensors would have to be nanoscale to be mixed into construction materials?).

The next paragraph seize on synthetic biology:

Some of the most advanced nanosensors to date have been crafted by using the tools of synthetic biology to modify single-celled organisms, such as bacteria. The goal here is to fashion simple biocomputers [Scientific American paywall] that use DNA and proteins to recognize specific chemical targets, store a few bits of information, and then report their status by changing color or emitting some other easily detectable signal. Synlogic, a start-up in Cambridge, Mass., is working to commercialize computationally enabled strains of probiotic bacteria to treat rare metabolic disorders.

What is the link between engineered bacteria and the internet? None. Zero. I am sorry to inform the experts of the WEF that bacteria, even genetically engineered ones, do not have iPhones: they won’t tweet how they do from inside your gut.

I could go on but will stop. Why is such nonsense presented as expert opinion?

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3 comments

  1. I think Jules Verne would turn in his grave after reading the WEF expert opinion. I wish to comment more but I prefer to stop now as a scientist, I have also sold a refrigerator to a Eskimo saying at its warmer inside a refrigerator than outside freezing temperatures.

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  2. Hi, I think you missed the point here. Internet of Nanothings is actually a nano-internet I guess?

    http://www2.ece.gatech.edu/research/labs/bwn/surveys/nanothings.pdf

    I just learned that there are nanorouters and nanolinks (that would be nanowires obviously? or more like nano WLAN?), probably somebody is already working on nanobrowsers?

    The internet of Bio-Nano things:

    http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/articleDetails.jsp?reload=true&arnumber=7060516

    I have a harder time understanding this one, but the idea of a gold nanoparticle twittering about his drug delivery experience and posting some pictures of the tumor environment on instagram is quite intriguing.

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    1. Thanks Anon, but no, I have not missed the point. The internet of nanothings is not the internet with some components of the infrastructure having things engineered on the nanoscale (that is already largely the case anyway).

      The internet of nanothings is about nanomachines connected (wirelessly if they are to travel in the body) and communicating together via the internet. Obviously for this to happen you would need the nanomachines and they would need nanorouters, etc. None of this exist. If you add the biological dimension and the claim about these nanomachines going through the body, it is even more ridiculous. Complete science fiction. Describing this as the #1 technological innovation of 2016 shows a remarkable contempt for evidence.

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