Chris Phoenix, CRN's Director of Research, writes:
I've recently been talking with a scientist who asserts that I alienate scientists by focusing on diamond-based "dry" nanotech to the exclusion of biochemical-based "wet" nanotech.
This indicates a misunderstanding that needs to be cleared up. We do not think that dry nanotech is the only kind that matters. However, it is the most powerful kind that has been specified to date. As such, until someone either shows why it can't work, or proposes a more powerful technology, this is the one we use as a benchmark.
There's another reason to focus specifically on Drexler's work as described in Nanosystems. Physically, it either works or it doesn't. As far as CRN can tell, it should work. But some prominent people, for a variety of reasons (most of them unscientific, and all of them inconclusive), are telling us that it can't. We think there's a good chance that someone who ignored those denialists would be able to follow Drexler's lead and create a very powerful technology.
If we are talking about what molecular manufacturing might be capable of in 20 years, and the implications of that capability, then we must consider the possibility of diamondoid nanosystems, or something of equivalent power.
When I say "Performance many times biology might be possible with diamondoid," everyone hears a different thing, and each person has a different reason for opposing the idea. Some want to defend funding, some want to rule out gray goo, some think their research project is better, some are upset by such an "unnatural" proposal, and some object that the details are probably wrong. So the discussion cannot progress sensibly because unrelated kinds of opposition reinforce each other improperly.
Let me state our purpose and reasoning in defending the Nanosystems work.
To prevent the world being taken by surprise by someone who has put Nanosystems into practice but will likely use the resulting capabilities irresponsibly.
1) Nanosystems appears to describe a plausible and very powerful technology.
2) Someone who took Nanosystems seriously would invest in exploring and developing that technology, probably in secret.
3) Even if Nanosystems has a flaw (though none has been found yet), someone who investigated it with an engineering mindset would probably be able to devise an equivalently powerful technology.
4) Many people (especially in America) have never studied Nanosystems, or don't even know it exists, and have no clue that it is plausible.
5) If a group from step 2 succeeds, they will have access to a disruptively powerful technology. This will be a big and probably unpleasant surprise to the rest of the world.
6) The ability to do nanoscale engineering is very rapidly getting easier. If something comparable to Nanosystems is achievable at all, it could happen quite soon. We can't be prepared unless we start taking the possibility seriously.