When I was a small boy I could tell when Christmas was imminent; sometime around mid November the annuals published by my favourite comics appeared in the newsagents. There then followed six weeks of agonised waiting until the Beano annual appeared under the Christmas tree. Things are different now. My favourite comic characters now seem to have become leading politicians. I don’t have to wait until Christmas anymore, because I can just buy the annual myself, but sadly the annual I seem to be buying isn’t from the Beano but from the Economist.
The World in 2005 is written with the Economist’s usual mix of self-confidence and breezy optimism (I thought this prediction – “the Middle East will end the year looking either much better or far worse” – is an absolute classic of the genre). Nanotechnology gets a little box, predicting that 2005 will see the first year in which corporations outspend governments in nanotechnology, and that this will be the year in which we will see the arrival of many more nanotechnology-enabled products. The usual suspects are paraded – nano-strengthened tennis raquets, stain-resistant fabrics and self-cleaning window glass. Perhaps more interestingly, the article points to NEC’s announcement of a fuel-cell powered notebook PC, using carbon nanotubes in the electrodes. Other reports, however, suggest that this technology won’t be commercialised until 2007. Nonetheless, this does support the idea that energy technologies will be an important and potentially transformative application of near to medium-term nanotechnology.