Feynman's Path to Nanotech (part 5)

Is it Worth Starting Now?

Surely, you will say, it would have been wonderful if back in 1959 people had taken Feynman seriously and really tried the Feynman path: we’d have the full-fledged paraphernalia of real, live molecular machinery now, with everything ranging from nanofactories to cell-repair machines.

After all, it’s been 50 years. The 10 factor-of-4 scale reductions to make up the factor-of-a-million scale reduction from a meter-scale system with centimeter parts to a micron-scale system with 10-nanometer parts, could have been done at a leisurely 5 years per step — plenty of time to improve tolerances, do experiments, invent new techniques.

But now it’s too late. We have major investment and experimentation and development in nanotech of the bottom-up form. We have Drexler’s PNAS paper telling us that the way to molecular manufacturing is by protein design. We have a wide variety of new techniques with scanning probes to read and modify surfaces at the atomic level. We have DNA origami producing arbitrary patterns and even some 3-D shapes.

Surely by the time a Feynman Path, started now, could get to molecular scale, the existing efforts, including the pathways described in the Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems, would have succeeded, leaving us with a relatively useless millimeter-sized system with 10-micron sized parts?

No — as the old serials would put it, a thousand times no.

I’ll stick my neck out and say at a wild guess that if only bottom-up approaches are pursued, we have 20 years to wait for real nanotech; but if the Feynman Path is actively pursued as well, it could be cut to 10.

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