Nanotechnology desktop factories timing debated

I remember when the most popular timing estimate for molecular manufacturing was “huh?” Next it was “never”. Then “centuries”. Here’s where we are today, as reported by the Australian Broadcasting Corp.:

Dr Peter Binks of Nanotechnology Victoria, a sponsor for Treder’s tour, says his organisation does not “yet buy into the idea” of the desktop factory.

“But we don’t dismiss it either,” he says. “We think there are a large number of technical hurdles to be overcome.”

William Price, professor of nanotechnology at the University of Western Sydney says desktop factories may be possible but technical issues will mean this will not be within 15 years.

Professor Chennupati Jagadish of the Australian Research Council Nanotechnology Network, which is also a sponsor for the tour, thinks Treder’s views are imaginative and futuristic.

“Expecting those sorts of machines in 15 years is probably too optimistic,” he says, estimating they would be more like 30 or 40 years away, if at all.

And it’s this challenge that makes Professor Ned Seeman, of New York University, who is involved in self-assembling arrays of DNA machines, sceptical of Treder’s claims.

“I think this suggestion is wildly optimistic,” he says. “Most of the basic principles have not been demonstrated, much less in a ‘desktop’ context.”

But even he is not willing to rule the technology out completely.

“One hundred years from now anything is possible.”

One wonders whether the reduction of timing estimates is exponential? That’s a little Kurzweilian humor to close out our week here at Nanodot!

Seriously: we’d like to see timing estimates from equivalent researchers in Japan, China, Korea, and Taiwan. Israel too.

Rumor has it that on Monday, the long-awaited report from the National Academies on the U.S. NNI will finally be issued. It is supposed to have an evaluation of molecular self-assembly, which the NNI’s legislative history makes clear is meant to be read as molecular manufacturing. Based on what I’ve heard, the odds of a high-quality evaluation of this topic are not high. Maybe I’ll be pleasantly surprised. [UPDATE: see 9/25 post. The report is as positive as one could reasonably expect.] —Christine

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