Every promising field has plenty of hype. Lots of “jump on the bandwagon” relabeling of existing research.
Here is a definition of nanotechnology: Nanotechnology is technology on the nanometer scale. Nanotechnology is an interdisciplinary activity, drawing on physics, chemistry, electronics, materials science and molecular biology.
And a separate definition for molecular engineering: methods and tools to design and produce high-complexity atomically precise structures. Molecular engineering is a nanotechnology.
I’m interested in molecular engineering. Biotech is not molecular engineering. Biotech is limited in building blocks, complexity and applications. Micro-machinery is not molecularly precise.
An important aspect of engineering is the ability to use an engineering discipline to incrementally improve the discipline itself. For example, you can use a milling machine to build parts for further milling machines. You can use computers to design and simulate computers. With molecular engineering you will be able to both design (molecular computers) and build (molecular assemblers) further molecular devices.
This is the crux of it – by feeding back on design tools and manufacturing you will get a “Moore’s Law” comparable to that of computers.
Enzymes can be used for bootstrapping an initial/simplified assembly machine. After you have the initial machine, it can be used to assemble better assembly machines, etc. . Enzymes are limited in medical application. You can’t really have an enzyme that does complex evaluation of a cell to decide if it is a pre-cancerous or perform complex cleanup and repair on a neuron, etc. . That’s why we should go a step further.
A molecular assembler will require interdisciplinary effort combining chemistry, computation, etc. . Researchers limited to existing fields may not have the vision or may feel threatened by the multi-field requirement. Bio-chemists and computer scientists have different temperaments which may make it harder to collaborate.
A programmable machine has product cycles measured in weeks or months. Existing research has cycles of years. An order of magnitude or two difference. And again, I don’t think you can reach the complexity that you need to deal with the human body.
The “major breakthroughs” in biotech have yet to increase lifespans by more than a few percent. They are major in terms of the past, but minor in terms of what needs to be done/can be done.