Debating the feasibility of molecular manufacturing

The Soft Machines blog is getting some visitors referred from a page on the new Foresight Institute website discussing the various debates there have been on the feasibility of Drexler’s version of a radical nanotechnology. For their convenience, and for anyone else who is interested, here is a quick summary of some the relevant posts on Soft Machines. When I get a moment, I will move a version of this summary to a more permanent home.

  • “Molecular nanotechnology, Drexler and Nanosystems – where I stand” is a concise summary of my overall position.
  • The mechanosynthesis debate. This began with a critique by Philip Moriarty, an experimental nanoscientist from the University of Nottingham, of a detailed proposal by Robert Freitas for implementing diamondoid mechanosynthesis. The debate is introduced here. The critique received a riposte from Chris Phoenix, of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology, which developed into an extensive exchange of views. The whole 56 page correspondence can be downloaded as a PDF from this post: “Is mechanosynthesis feasible? The debate continues.” My commentary on the debate can be found in this post: “The mechanosynthesis debate”. Each of these posts also contains many illuminating comments from various readers. As a postscript to this debate, I hope Philip Moriarty won’t mind me adding that the private correspondence he mentions between Robert Freitas and himself is still constructively continuing.
  • Is matter digital? Here I argue that the focus of radical nanotechnology should be moved away from the question of how artefacts are to be made, and towards a deeper consideration of how they will function, and I question the assumption that a single basic technology, like diamondoid-based molecular nanotechnology, can carry out all the functions we need in an optimal way. The original post, Making and doing, attracted detailed comments from Christine Peterson, of the Foresight Institute, and Chris Phoenix. I responded to these criticisms in Bits and Atoms.
  • Drexler and Smalley. The most high-profile scientific opponent of Drexler has been Richard Smalley. I asked the question Did Smalley deliver a killer blow to Drexlerian MNT?, and concluded that he probably didn’t.
  • The argument from biology. The existence of biology is often cited as an existence proof for radical nanotechnology. In this post – What biology does and doesn’t prove about nanotechnology – I argue that we can learn a lot from the biological example, but that the conclusions we should draw aren’t the ones that the supporters of MNT reach.