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Feasibility of Molecular Manufacturing
Eric Drexler proposed in 1981 that molecular objects could be mechanically positioned to atomic precision to effect controlled site-specific synthetic reactions to build complex objects. In 1986 Drexler gave the name assembler to devices that "will be able to bond atoms together in virtually any stable pattern." In Nanosystems, published in 1992, Drexler presented a detailed technical analysis of the process of molecular manufacturing that assemblers would make possible. More recent studies ["Safe exponential manufacturing" by Chris Phoenix and Eric Drexler, 2004, Nanotechnology 15 869-872] have emphasized the advantages of desktop nanofactories over microscopic self-replicating machines.
Although no flaws in this analysis have been suggested, a number of prominent scientists made unsupported claims that molecular manufacturing is infeasible, and the wider scientific community failed to take the prospect of molecular manufacturing seriously. For example, an otherwise visionary NSF study, published in 2002, titled Converging Technologies for Improving Human Performance (see Update 49) fails to mention molecular assemblers. More recently, however, a review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative conducted by the National Research Council called for experimentation toward molecular manufacturing (see Nanodot post).
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- 1996. Foresight Debate with Scientific American
- 2001. "'That's impossible!' How good scientists reach bad conclusions", by Ralph C. Merkle
- 2001. IMM Responds to Articles in Scientific American. For the details: "On Physics, Fundamentals, and Nanorobots: A Rebuttal to Smalley's Assertion that Self-Replicating Mechanical Nanorobots Are Simply Not Possible" and "Many Future Nanomachines: A Rebuttal to Whiteside's Assertion That Mechanical Molecular Assemblers Are Not Workable and Not A Concern"
- 2002. "Balancing the National Nanotechnology Initiative's R&D Portfolio", by Neil Jacobstein, Ralph Merkle, and Robert Freitas (PDF - 68 KB, Update coverage)
- 2002. "The Next Stage", by Eric Drexler
- 2003. "Focusing on Assemblers", by Ralph Merkle
- 2003. In Congressional testimony, Foresight president Christine Peterson calls for "a basic feasibility review in which molecular manufacturing's proponents and critics can present their technical cases to a group of unbiased physicists for analysis." (Update coverage)
- 2003. An open letter on assemblers from Drexler to Smalley.
- 2003. Is the Revolution Real? Debating the future of nanotechnology (Update coverage)
- 2003. Letter to the Editor of The New York Times
- 2004. "Nanotechnology: From Feynman to Funding", by K. Eric Drexler [PDF file, 80 KB], published in the Bulletin of Science, Technology & Society, Vol. 24, No. 1, February 2004, 21-27.
- 2005. Thoughts on the future of nanotechnology, by Richard A. L. Jones, author of Soft Machines: nanotechnology and life. Jones argues that Drexler's proposed mechanical route to advanced nanotechnology might be possible, but that a route based on the unique properties of biological molecular machine systems is more practical.
- 2005. Roadmap Initiatives: Foresight sees the creation of technical and policy roadmaps as key to accomplishing a number of objectives in the nanotechnology field.
- 2006. National Academies nanotechnology report calls for experimentation toward molecular manufacturing