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October 09, 2007

Eric Drexler on the Productive Nanosystems TechnologyRoadmap

Drexler is the one who started the idea of molecular manufacturing back in the mid-1980's. The general focus of the Roadmap is on atomically precise technologies, not productive nanosystems.

It provides merit criteria and metrics for research today. When selecting between proposals, look for atomic precision. Look for size, range of materials, other criteria that we'll probably hear about later in the talk.

The Roadmap looks toward advanced manufacturing (what physics says should be possible), but focuses on accessible productive nanosystems (such as ribosome-like systems).

Near-term, there are several kinds of atomically precise things we can build. One is biopolymers: protein, DNA.

New topic: Advances in production technology. Type 1 advances build better products. In Type 2, the products include improvements to the production system, which can enable further improvements. So we really want better productive machines that can build better productive machines... This appears to be an argument for using nanosystems as the means of production of nanosystems.

Today, tools build tools build tools... traceable back to blacksmithing. The tool that extruded your breakfast bagel is a leaf on this tree. The advanced APM tree has a "Mark II Ribosome" low on the trunk, and "Macroscale APM" high on the trunk, with "Dollar-per-kilogram fab" among the leaves. People tend to assume that things high in the tree are proposals for next year, "which would be absurd."

The Roadmap talks about cross-linked organic structures. An idea that arose pretty late is mixed covalent-ionic bonding. Titanium dioxide, quartz. This may be closer than what's been looked at more closely.

The role of roadmapping: Developing the knowledge and confidence necessary for coordinated system development. So the Productive Nanosystems roadmap should show what's necessary, when, how to coordinate and schedule developments. Avoid chicken-and-egg problems that lead to slow incremental progress.

DNA currently costs dollars per milligram. There's no point in thinking about kilogram-scale structures... but there's a researcher who has an idea for making DNA at dollars per kilogram... but why should he do it when there's no market for kilograms of DNA? This is a real example: it seems that DNA might actually get vastly cheaper.

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