Eric Drexler presented a lecture at the University of Oxford Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology that addressed two key questions:

  • What will be the next great revolution in the material basis of civilization?
  • How can we establish reliable knowledge about key aspects of such technologies?

From the news release, aptly titled “The next technological revolution?“:

The key to tackling some of our planet’s greatest challenges may be found in the laws of physics and methods of engineering, as opposed to any specific technological innovation.

Speaking at the inaugural public lecture of the Oxford Martin Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, Dr Eric Drexler said there is a compelling case for the viability of atomically precise manufacturing. This is the process of building structures, tools and machines starting at the molecular level, with atomic precision, to address challenges such as rising greenhouse gases and energy production for our growing population.

In a talk entitled “Exploring a Timeless Landscape: Physical Law and the Future of Nanotechnology”, pioneering nanotechnology researcher Dr. Drexler invited the audience to consider the intriguing possibility of nano-level manufacture of macro-level products. Such a process, if achieved, would be the next great revolution in the material basis of civilization, offering high-performance components, materials or systems and accelerated productivity. …

Those who have read Drexler’s 1988 essay on exploratory engineering and the 2007 Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems will be familiar with the main arguments presented in the talk. Dr. Drexler’s conclusions about the development of atomically precise manufacturing were:

  • We now have ample scientific knowledge. Rather than additional breakthroughs we need component design.
  • Molecular experiments are fast and inexpensive by ordinary engineering standards.
  • Advances in fabrication methods will yield faster more predictable results, accelerating progress.

Dr. Drexler left the audience to consider whether the advent of atomically precise manufacturing meant that in preparing for the 21st century we should expect scarcity and conflict or something radically different, and whether we could change the conversation in the world about the future incrementally in a well-grounded way.

The Oxford Martin Programme has made the abstract available, which includes a link to a Youtube video of the lecture “Timeless Landscape: Physical Law and the Future of Nanotechnology“.