It seems to us at CRN (and others have told us as well) that views of molecular manufacturing may be turning a corner...
Item 1: Consider the recent urgings of India's president Kalam for scientists in his country to "make a breakthrough" that "would revolutionise the total concepts of future warfare." Reportedly he is asking them to develop "super strong, smart and intelligent structures in the field of material science" that could lead to "new production of nano robots with new types of explosives and sensors for air, land and space systems."
Item 2: A newly published industrial report from Russia claims to include a roadmap to automated diamond mechanosynthesis, as well as information on mechanosynthesis equipment, mechanical computing, and scaling of mechanosynthesis. As far as we can tell from the description on their website, this looks like an endorsement of everything Eric Drexler wrote in Nanosystems, with one crucial addition: the roadmap to mechanosynthesis of diamond, which appears to be based on a detailed survey of synthesis and analysis methods for diamond.
Item 3: A group of researchers at General Dynamics, led by Tihamer Toth-Fejel, recently performed a study for NASA on "Machine Self-Replication". In a major advance in the study of practical self-replicating systems, they have developed a modular design for a manufacturing system that can put together simple pre-fabricated parts to make useful products. Their work confirms what Drexler and others have been saying for decades: that exponential manufacturing is amenable to engineering and does not require complex biological approaches; and that the payoffs from a successful project will be immense.
Item 4: A thoroughly researched new article by Patrick Bailey for Betterhumans examines the positions of those who deny the potential of molecular manufacturing and concludes that such opposition, even from the most prominent scientists, is often groundless. Note that the NNI website, which recently dropped its casual dismissal of nanobots as "science fiction", has even included Bailey's article on their News Update page.
Is all this cause for celebration? For cries of victory? Not necessarily.
For one thing, on official levels both the US and UK governments are still either silent or actively in denial about the scientific possibilities of advanced nanotechnology. Moreover, it is still too early to tell how and where and for what purpose molecular manufacturing will be developed. CRN strongly believes the time has come for vigorous investigation and international dialogue about the implications of this transformative technology.