Tag Archives: molecular manufacturing

How will the earliest nanofactories emerge?

dimensionsJ Storrs Hall of the Foresight institute comments on what the earliest nanofactories will be like, and Michael Anissimov responds:

If nanofactories work at all, they will be very powerful. A nanofactory would be a very complicated, “huge” thing. The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology compares the complexity of a molecular assembler to that of a Space Shuttle. I think the analogy would be apt for a nanofactory as well. We are talking about a miniature factory with more moving parts and individual computers than a typical 100 million-dollar modern factory today. Difficulties with the basic technology will manifest themselves in the pre-nanofactory stage, working with individual assemblers or small ensembles of assemblers. If you’ve made it all the way to nanofactory-level MNT, you’ve already jumped the primary technological hurdles.

A point of disagreement between Anissimov and Hall is the precise definiton of “nanofactory.” Is it simply a general term for a device that can create many other things including a copy of itself, or it is a specific desktop-scale universal assembler?

Assuming the latter definition, Anissimov argues that widespread adoption of desktop nanofactories will happen much more rapidly than that of personal computers because:

There are simply too many moving parts for micromanagement to be possible — either the “code-level” operations are automated or they haven’t been established yet.

Either they work or they don’t. The smallest replicating unit is equivalent to the transistor in a personal computer – to the user it is expected to behave as a black box that performs a specific function – and if it fails to there is not much the user can do about it (if a transistor fails on a microchip can it even be repaired?).

The appropriate analogy is therefore between computers and nanofactories is between the existence of nanofactories and the existence of microchips. Microchips have found their way all over the place…

If Anissimov is right then it raises the interesting possibility that mature, desktop-scale nanofabrication may achieve widespread consumer adoption over a startlingly short period, given the ability of the machine to make copies of itself and the fact if it fulfils its basic function then it can become incredibly useful to many people very quickly.

[via Next Big Future][image from jurvetson on flickr]

The inevitability of global government

United Nations, GenevaMichael Anissimov found an intriguing (and rather odd) post by one Britt Gillette, which argues that a single monolithic global government is not only possible but inevitable, and that the driving force will be the rise of molecular manufacturing technology:

Imagine a scenario in which a single individual in possession of unrestricted technology and resources could conquer the entire world. This will be our world in the era of molecular manufacturing. With such high stakes and an almost infinite number of potential threats, the world population will require some means of defense. And that defense will require around-the-clock, ever-present surveillance of the world at large.

A system of safeguards will have to be constructed in order to prevent emerging nation states, terrorist groups, and individuals from breaching the peace. A single global government will go a long way toward eliminating military conflict, as there will be only one military power with a unified purpose. However, in the era of molecular manufacturing, competing militaries could rise quickly, and to prevent a loss of its governing monopoly, a global government will have to deploy unprecedented measures.

This surveillance could be “god-like” in scope – seeing everything, hearing everything, and knowing everything. Imagine “nanodust” – nanoscale cameras and listening devices as plentiful and as difficult to remove as common, everyday dust. MM will enable the construction of trillions of these sophisticated devices at negligible cost.

It’s quite a lengthy post, looking at trends in political detente and weapons stockpiling since WW2 to justify the argument. Beyond the paragraphs quoted above it gets all Bible-literalist, but there’s some genuine logical thought going on before Gillette invokes a themed short-story anthology of dubious editorial provenance as a guide to future inevitabilities, and Anissimov concedes the validity of molecular manufacturing as a game-changing technology:

… MM will not arrive tomorrow, and probably not in the next decade (maybe in the next two), but if it does, I believe that global government is indeed probable, whether you like it or not. Go read Nanosystems. Even if MNT is implausible, hijacked ribosomes would still give rise to exponential manufacturing, so even “soft machines” could lead to the ability to build millions of missiles in less than a couple years. The crucial effects are the exponentiality and programmability.

I’d go with global government being plausible, but I’m not entirely sure it’s the most likely scenario. Personally, I tend to think that governance will become radically decentralised as the nation-state concept finally dissolves; molecular manufacturing would accelerate the erosion of geography that communications technology has already begun. Much as in the original comic books version of Watchmen, I think the only thing that could unite the planet into a single body would be an external existential threat on an equivalent scale to an alien invasion – and I don’t consider one of those to be very likely at all! [image by lilivanili]

That said, I think a global framework based on communications that allows local governments to interact with each other on an equal footing is fairly likely – as well as more appealing than the thought of some bureaucratic behemoth spanning the planet.

But I’m aware that’s not a majority opinion – so what do you lot think? Is a single global government inevitable, and would such a thing be desirable? What would be its causes, and what would be its flaws?

It’s not molecular manufacturing, but you can see it from here:

Vacuum chamber of scanning tunneling electron microscope A new $15 million research project is being launched to enable manufacturing at the almost unimaginably small scale of one atom at a time. (Via Responsible Nanotechnology.)

The technology is based on the established ability to remove individual hydrogen atoms from a silicon surface using a scanning tunneling microscope, and could enable a wide variety of devices and products, including:

* Ultra-low-power semiconductors for cellphones and other wireless communications.
* Sensors with ultra-high sensitivity.
* Data encryption orders of magnitude more secure than existing technology.
* Optical elements that enable unprecedented performance in computing and communications.
* Customized surfaces that would have an array of applications in the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries.
* Nanoscale genomics arrays that would enable a person’s complete genetic sequence to be read in less than two hours.

The Atomically Precise Manufacturing Consortium is being led by Zyvex Labs LLC, a molecular nanotechnology company based in Richardson, Texas. The project includes a mixture of funding from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the Texas Emerging Technology Fund and cost sharing from the team members.

As Mike Treder at the Responsible Nanotechnology blog notes:

This is still not quite equivalent to molecular manufacturing, but it does represent a major step along the way. And make no mistake, that is the eventual goal of this team.

(Image: Kristian Molhave, via Wikimedia Commons.)

[tags]nanotechnology, molecular manufacturing, technology[/tags]