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Nanotech dominates manufacturing as Invisible Economy booms
Dateline: 19 February 2019
There's a good reason they call it the "Invisible Economy." Most of the raw materials and sub-assemblies are too small to be seen with the naked eye. And whole factories can reside in a test tube.
But like computer processors, the smaller things get, the more powerful they become. Now the virtually invisible economy of nanotechnology and molecular machines is dominating industrial processes and 'manufacturing' from Shanghai to Silicon Valley.
It's just so much easier, and cheaper, to build things from atoms and molecules, that old-style 20th Century industries have gone to the wall. Everything from aircraft parts to TV screens can be grown or printed on the spot, right where you need them.
Which means that all those warehouses full of inventory have also disappeared; so this new economy is more invisible than ever, even as it booms beyond all expectation.
Next thing you know, it will be like turning on a tap to get food or beer; all you need is a pipeline of molecules to your home or office. And if you need an extra room or desk, that can be built out of atoms too!
So if we can make anything we need, as we need it, is there really any industry left? Or have we finally reached the stage where economics are irrelevant, as well as invisible?
Published 5 January 2012
Hazardous Thinking At Work
Despite appearances to the contrary, FutureWorld cannot and does not predict the future. Our MindBullets scenarios are fictitious and designed purely to explore possible futures, challenge and stimulate strategic thinking. Use these at your own risk. Any reference to actual people, entities or events is entirely allegorical. Copyright FutureWorld International Limited. Reproduction or distribution permitted only with recognition of Copyright and the inclusion of this disclaimer. Public domain image.
ANALYSIS >> SYNTHESIS: How this scenario came to be
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Guillermo Falco   No more industres? No more economics?
Where would we get the materials for the atom flows? (mining, agriculture, recycling industries?)

Who would turn these materials into the atom flows? (a process-manufacturing industry?)

Who would distribute the flows to homes? (new utilities industries?) And the energy to run those printers? (the same old utility industries?)

Who would make the 3d-printers? And the equipment required to distribute the flows to homes? (equipment manufacturing industry?)

If you can print a desk or a room at home, do you have to become a furniture designer or an architect, and have time for it? Or would you be able to buy those designs, maybe from the R&D part of the current manufacturing industry? Only the actual manufacturing would be done at home (currently done in Asia, so US & Europe may not tell the difference)

Discrete-manufacturing, retail & distribution as we know them, yes, may go.

And what about services industries.... entertainment, health care, transportation, finance (not least to buy the 3d-printers or build the atom distribution pipelines), etc?

I like your emphasis on nanotechnology but I think saying no industry would be left, and economics would not be relevant, was taking it a bit too far.

I would say we'd have a different set of industries (some more capital intensive/concentrated? others the other way around?) ...and implications on wealth distribution, international trade, competition, etc. which economics would have a nice task making sense of.

Posted: 5 January 2012 at 11:00 Delete Reply to this comment
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Doug Vining   No more industres? No more economics?
Great comments! I'm glad this MindBullet is stimulating such critical thinking

Posted: 5 January 2012 at 18:08 Delete Reply to this comment
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Wolfgang Grulke   No more industres? No more economics?
Remember that you have enough atoms in your garbage to build almost ANYTHING! The big problem is fo course that we donot yet have the technology to do manufacturing at an atomic level...but it will surely come - the question is only when.

Today, manufacturing at a molecular level (especially in the form of 3D printing) is already delivering the rpomise of the past ten years. Next step - do it at an atomic level!

Anyone who read 'Enginesof Creation' by Eric Drexler (it seems decades ago) has been inspired by the potential of this field. If it happens - it will change 'everythng'!!!

Posted: 6 January 2012 at 11:13 Delete Reply to this comment
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Miguel Sacramento   One Atom To Rule Them all
Technology evolution has been increasingly fast and the natural transition to a new environment where economics will be serving society - not the opposite as currently - wil not be easy as in short term it will be eliminating a lot of traditional jobs and creating infinite new opportunities that mankind will not be seeing.

Posted: 7 January 2012 at 14:25 Delete Reply to this comment
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Doug Vining   One Atom To Rule Them all
Indeed Miguel, nanotech will certainly help to make many 'old jobs' irrelevant, and people who wish to participate in the new 'invisible' economy will have to acquire new skills. In fact, this is the subject of a MindBullet due to be published in a few weeks time!

Posted: 13 January 2012 at 10:22 Delete Reply to this comment
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Rusty roestorf   Re: ONE ATOM TO RULE THEM ALL
Change is constant and many vibrant industries regularly experience overnight redundancy as new technology makes them obsolete. The telephone replaced the runner with the forked stick just as the cell phone killed off a host of industries overnight. The emphasis of the economy may shift as time goes by but there will always be an economy of sorts. It is the one constant that gives mankind purpose. Manufacturing may very well be replaced by personal and even industrial strength "replicators" (to use a SF term).
Recycling human waste and all other trash regardless of physical structure would take on new meaning as all discards could be broken down into their molecular components and reassembled as something else.
Today's underwear could well become next week's prime steak.
Mining and deforestation will become obsolete as the need for raw material diminishes and the planet will become green again.
The process will no doubt be dominated by major operators in the beginning but they too will have to give way as personal replicators begin to appear.
Transport can be resolved by the use of matter transferring machines. Trash that has been broken down to molecular levels can be instantly transferred from anywhere to anywhere else around the globe.
Beam me up Scotty can become a reality.
Population growth can be controlled. China is already leading the way in that direction.
So what will the out of work population do then?
That is the subject for another debate altogether.

Posted: 7 January 2012 at 21:51 Delete Reply to this comment
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