Computers reproduce information at almost no cost. A push is well underway to invent devices that manufacture at almost no cost, by treating atoms discretely, like computers treat bits of information. This would allow automatic construction of consumer goods without traditional labor, like a Xerox machine produces unlimited copies without a human retyping the original information.
Electronics is fueled by miniaturization. Working smaller has led to the tools capable of manipulating individual atoms like the proteins in a potato manipulate the atoms of soil, air and water to make copies of itself. The shotgun marriage of chemistry and engineering called Nanotechnology is ushering in the era of self replicating machinery and self assembling consumer goods made from cheap raw atoms (Drexler, Merkle paraphrased). Nanotechnology is molecular manufacturing or, more simply, building things one atom or molecule at a time with programmed nanoscopic robot arms.
A nanometer is one billionth of a meter (3 – 4 atoms wide). Utilizing the well understood chemical properties of atoms and molecules (how they stick together), nanotechnology proposes the construction of novel molecular devices possessing extraordinary properties. The trick is to manipulate atoms individually and place them exactly where needed to produce the desired structure. This ability is almost in our grasp. The anticipated payoff for mastering this technology is far beyond any human accomplishment so far.
. . Technical feasibilities include:’self-assembling consumer goods? Computers billions of times faster? Extremely novel inventions (impossible today)’safe and affordable space travel? Medical Nano. . .
virtual end to illness, aging, death? No more pollution and automatic cleanup of already existing pollution? Molecular food syntheses. . . end of famine and starvation? Access to a superior education for every child on Earth? Reintroduction of many extinct plants and animals? Terraforming here and the Solar SystemFrom the introduction of the plenary of Dr. Drexler at the January ’96 program of the twenty-ninth annual Hawaii International Conference on System Science, Maui. (An academic meeting of software and systems scientist.
)In a world of information, digital technologies have made copying fast, cheap, and perfect, quite independent of cost or complexity of the content. What if the same were to happen in the world of matter? The production cost of a ton of terabyte RAM chips would be about the same as the production cost of steel. Design costs would matter, production costs wouldn’t. BibliographyTHE NEXT GENERATIONS. . .