At a wedding recently, a friend of the groom asked me to explain nanotechnology in just three sentences.
1. The “nano” in nanotechnology refers to nanometer, or a billionth of a meter, roughly the scale of the individual atoms that make up all matter, so in general nanotechnology means anything that is built or operates at the nanometer scale, which includes interesting applications such as stain-resistant pants, permanently anti-bacterial surfaces, and the newest sunscreens, which are available now.
2. The revolutionary breakthrough will be when we create atomically precise machinery using individual atoms and bonds as the building blocks, kind of like an extremely small erector set, for which the proof of concept is the DNA and other cellular machinery that is part of all life.
3. We are almost certain to achieve this in the next twenty to forty years, and it will bring capabilities that seem nothing short of science fiction; the end of disease and aging, changing the global environment however we want, and making physical objects as easy to copy as a computer file is today are just the beginning.