According to futurist Ray Kurzweil, nano-factories could be providing you and your family with meals, medicines, and most essentials by as early as mid-2020s.

A recent government report, “Nanotechnology: the Future is Coming Sooner Than You Think” outlined when we can expect nano-products to enter the consumer market:

2000-2005 – mostly passive nano items were developed during this period, including sunscreens, tennis rackets, stain/water-resistant clothing, and other high-tech products.

2005-2010 – active products that change states during use are typical for this group. These include materials that sense when a product is strained, such as cars that automatically repair dents; wiper-less windshield cleaners; materials that convert sunlight into electricity to power personal electronics; clothing that changes color and texture on command; and nanofoods such as fat-free donuts, cholesterol-lowering cheeseburgers, and “smart” grocery packaging materials that prevent food from spoiling.

2010-2015 – nanomaterials that self-assemble to achieve a final goal will become available during this period. These include proteins or viruses that build small batteries, nanostructures that create a lattice on which bone or other tissues can grow; “smart” dust strewn over an area that sense the presence of humans and communicates their location; and devices that find and destroy cancer cells without harming neighboring tissues.

2015-2020 – during this time, nanobots will be available that can render hazardous materials harmless, enrich farmlands by placing correct amounts of oxygen and nutrients into the soil, and roam through bodies analyzing vital conditions and displaying health information directly on the skin (like a temporary tattoo). Also in this period, computers will be able to sense and respond to human thoughts; and tissues and organs will be grown inside the body using stem cell and genetic engineering techniques.

2020 and Beyond – tiny computerized nanobots that maintain perfect health in every cell could be available by 2025, and in the 2030s, according to Kurzweil, humanity will begin to transcend its biological limitations and interface directly with machines to absorb huge amounts of intelligence created by powerful supercomputers.

The late Arthur C. Clarke once said, “Any sufficiently advanced technology is virtually indistinguishable from magic.”