Because of the IC's unique requirements, it is unlikely that the research necessary to exploit some opportunities will be fully funded by the private sector; instead some form of direct participation by the IC will be needed.

Recommendation 2: The IC should develop a strategy for exploiting smalltech areas of special promise mentioned in this report. The strategy should include:

  • Search for quasi-commercial technologies. In these technologies, the costs of development have already largely been paid, but the technologies have not become widely disseminated. Novel applications of dual-use technologies should also be sought.

  • Develop a methodology for producing non-commercial technologies for use by the IC. The IC may need its own fabrication facilities to produce smalltech items whose characteristics are not in demand in the commercial sector. It may also wish to facilitate the development of products of unique interest to the IC by small companies and organizations.

  • Develop a mechanism for monitoring and supporting enabling technologies for smalltech breakthroughs. These include materials science, modeling, and computational science, as well as tools for the manipulation, characterization, and fabrication of nanostructures.

  • Build up long-term, in-house technical expertise in areas related to smalltech; in the near term, seek expert advice regarding investments in areas of high technical risk or uncertainty. Examples include quantum computing and communication, molecular electronics, and intelligent sensor networks. This expert advice will also help the IC to avoid investing in "science fiction"1 areas such as nonbiological exponential manufacturing systems (assemblers).

Finding 3: To take advantage of the opportunities discussed in this report, the IC will have to address a variety of technical and economic issues. These include:

  • Defining its own role in the research, development, andfabrication of noncommercial technologies. For example, if the IC wishes to develop true nanoscale electronics, it will have to develop a strategy for managing the resources needed to make these devices.

  • Globalization. Government investment in nanotechnology is roughly equal in the United States, the European Union, and Japan; and China, Switzerland, and Israel have intensive programs as well. The IC will need a policy to deal with a situation in which it may be playing catch-up with other countries in some important applications of smalltech.

  • Industrial capabilities. To stay abreast of the development of the technology-and the capabilities that it provides-it will be necessary to actively monitor industrial R&D abroad.

  • Ultralarge databases. As nanoscale technology enables information storage to become very small and inexpensive, the ability to store very large amounts of information will soar.


In this report, the Committee uses the phrase "science fiction" to describe those concepts that are sufficiently improbable, based on known or foreseeable science, that they do not justify investment at this time.

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