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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).