We've been reviewing CRN's list of thirty essential studies that must be performed before we can have an adequate understanding of the potential societal impacts of nanotechnology. The first 16 studies covered technical, foundational, system and product development capabilities of molecular manufacturing technologies. (You can read about each of them in earlier blog entries.)
Studies 17 through 30 deal with "Policies and Policymaking". These studies assume the existence of a general-purpose molecular manufacturing system. We list problems and opportunities raised by molecular manufacturing, and point out the difficulties of making policy to deal with them. Our preliminary answers in this section are based on diamondoid nanofactory technology.
Let's start with study #17: "Which of today's products will the system make more accessible or cheaper?"
For each suggested product, determine if the cost, compactness, or functionality could be enhanced by an order of magnitude (10 times) or more, compared to present alternatives.
Subquestion A: Computers (logic)?
Preliminary answer: More efficient by six orders of magnitude. Smaller by perhaps four (vs. transistor) or seven (vs. packaged chip) orders of magnitude.
Subquestion B: Basic physical structure?
Preliminary answer: Maybe two orders lighter for tension, more for compression. Due to more efficient use of material, the cost of finished products may be substantially less than today's raw materials cost for a comparable product.
Subquestion C: Actuators?
Preliminary answer: Eight orders of magnitude smaller vs. today's electric motors.
Subquestion D: Avionics?
Preliminary answer: Perhaps three or four orders of magnitude lighter.
Subquestion E: Medical devices?
Preliminary answer: Molecular sensors may be sub-micron; actuators likewise; whole new classes of device will become possible. These new classes will show improvements of 10-1000 fold over natural biological systems (a technically defensible claim, based on Robert Freitas's device design papers, Nanomedicine, etc.).
Subquestion F: Sensors?
Preliminary answer: Many sensors will be many orders of magnitude smaller and cheaper. More precise for nearly all sensors, due to more precise manufacturing and accessibility of higher-tech detection and amplification.
Subquestion G: Integrated systems (e.g. robotics)?
Preliminary answer: Similar to avionics. Orders of magnitude more integrated computer power will allow greater functionality.
Subquestion H: Compact systems (e.g. surveillance, medical)?
Preliminary answer: Yes.
Subquestion I: Energy systems (e.g. solar collection, storage, transport/transmission)?
Preliminary answer: Several kinds of solar collector should be buildable with a few grams per square meter/kilowatt. Several kinds of efficient energy storage are possible.
Subquestion J: Large systems (e.g. infrastructure, civil engineering)?
Preliminary answer: Cheap, fast manufacturing of strong materials should allow large projects to be undertaken. Fast design of special-purpose robotics should reduce labor costs of installation, including for projects that must be fabricated in pieces.
Provisional conclusion: Diamondoid nanofactory molecular manufacturing will be revolutionary and highly disruptive in many areas of high-tech as well as low-tech manufacturing, including aerospace, energy, and medical technologies.
Our initial basic findings (preliminary answers and provisional conclusions) for all thirty studies should be verified as rapidly as possible. Because our understanding points to a crisis, a parallel process of conducting these studies is strongly preferred.
We are actively looking for researchers who have an interest in performing or assisting with this work. Please contact CRN Research Director Chris Phoenix if you would like more information or if you have comments on the proposed studies.