small logo Guest Editorial

Why Smaller is Better
by Prof. Robert A. Lodder, University of Kentucky

Editor's Note: The online magazine Spiked recently conducted a major survey of thinkers, practitioners, educators and communicators in the fields of science, technology, medicine and beyond. The question posed in the survey was: "What is the greatest innovation in your field?" The following essay is Rob Lodder's response to that survey.

The greatest innovation in my field is miniaturisation. It is a force that pervades science and engineering, resulting in many things being accomplished

Miniaturisation is the ongoing movement in technology toward progressively smaller scales for first mechanical, then optical, electronic, and recently full circle back to mechanical devices.

Miniaturisation can be traced back hundreds of years as a theoretical science and a physical practice, commencing with atomic theories of matter and the use of the first microscopes, and leading to the contemporary sciences of nanotechnology and molecular nanotechnology. In electronics, miniaturisation leads to Moore's Law, which predicts that the number of transistors on an integrated circuit for minimum component cost doubles every 24 months. Moore's Law is responsible for the continuing information technology revolution.

Miniaturisation is making possible great strides in the Triple-A problems in science. During a career a scientist will typically work on all kinds of different problems. Some will have a broad impact and some will not. There are three general problems that promise to have such an impact on science as a whole that we call them the AAA problems.

  1. Artificial Intelligence
  2. Aging
  3. Astrobiology

Briefly, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is important because we hope to some day soon build machines with human and superhuman intelligence. Once this happens, all problems that can be solved by intelligence will be solved, because we can build more and more machines that will work day and night on the problems until the answers are obtained.

Aging is an important problem to solve because eradication of aging and disease will allow humans to live forever. Once humans live forever, they will continue to learn more and more until all problems that can be solved by intelligence are solved. However, once humans live forever we will need more space to reproduce, and human life will have to expand beyond planet Earth.

Astrobiology is the study of life in the universe. The tools of astrobiology will eventually be used by the human species to understand and explore the universe, and to expand our existence beyond first our planet and then our solar system.

It has been said that technology, when sufficiently advanced, is indistinguishable from magic. When such technology advances even further through nanotechnology, it becomes indistinguishable from nature.

Robert A Lodder is a professor at the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and the Division of Analytical Chemistry of the Department of Chemistry University of Kentucky in Lexington, editor-in-chief of the astroanalytical chemistry and astrobiology journal Contact in Context, member of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration Advisory Committee on Pharmaceutical Science, Process Analytical Technologies subcommittee.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in editorials are those of the individual authors, and do not necessarily reflect the position of The SETI League, Inc., its Trustees, officers, Advisory Board, members, donors, or commercial sponsors.

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