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« 2004 in Review | Main | Engineered Nanosystems »

January 02, 2005


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I've been taking some time to review the entries over the last two months that I have missed as I've been away. And I've come across an entry giving a download of a 20 make video clip of a nano factory producing a useful product in this case a laptop computer. I have a few comments on the design I have seen this design before and have printed computer-generated pictures of the device. I seem to recall a few years ago thinking of a scenario where a molecular assembler would produce large steel or now in the case of diamond a diamond bar similar to a I-beam used in the construction of a high-rise building. In the scenario the been the would grow out from the side of the assembler where the assembler was perhaps 2 buy 2 foot but the beam would extend outward from the year that some 30 feet at that point the I-beam would be cut and another beam would be started. In this way raw materials could be produced for construction of large buildings. One can also is a situation where a 2 buy perhaps 5 feet MM unit would be utilized to produce 4 by 8 sheets of plywood or diamond in this case again for use in production of housing.

The issue with the nano factory as stated and described is the product grows up from a plate on the bottom of the nano factory is in my opinion is a flaw in the design. The required additional components for displacing the useful product upward and allowing for adding of material under the useful product would seem unwarranted. A better design would allow for the surface plate to be itself raised and the useful product excluded from under the plate. Or the production plate would stand vertical and the useful product would be extruded to the side.

In the example given a laptop computer is produced a very useful product to most of us. But as stated in the past a more useful product for initial development would be mosquito netting, plumbing, water purifiers, housing, greenhouses, automobiles, airplanes, helicopters and the like. As listed this useful products would immediately impact the very poor and allow for an increased standard of living.

I'm wondering if everyone here is thinking we will design useful products whereas the entire product will be produced IE a water purification system. Or we will design simple products such as pipes, motors, pumps, screws, bolts, nuts. And then use these base products to construct larger more complicated devices.

I have often been taken back with the size restrictions as described by many articles where the MM is a tabletop 2 x 2 foot device roughly. Although this device would be useful in homes, in itself it cannot build a home. So it would appear a much more useful device would be a 30 buy 30 foot device in this device large products can be constructed and multiple copies of smaller devices can be constructed as well during the same production run.

We have stated in the past that the MM factory can produce itself I'm curious as I have always assumed 2 x 2 foot factory can produce a compressed 3 x 3 MM factory and such a device could produce a 4 x 4 foot factory and so on. Giving us a situation where in 20 or so generations one could construct a considerable sized nano factory. To be used in construction of larger products i.e. full-size automobiles, trucks, tanks, aircraft, ships. These useful products would directly impact the life and increased the standard of living by all everywhere overnight.

Given the last few days events with the large devastation from the earthquake in and around the Pacific Rim we see a situation where if we could produce numbers of helicopters on day one the impact of this disaster would have been mitigated that said the number of dead would perhaps not have decreased initially but over the days to follow the number would surely have been less.

This situation stands as a convincing reminder that we must be diligent and move forward in our plans for production and the creation of MM. Never before in the history of man have so few been in a position to affect the lives of so many indeed the entire world stands waiting for this technology. With the passage of everyday we see the death toll rise and the innocent suffer needlessly in so many ways this suffering is unwarranted and unnecessary. We should take a moment to consider the events and to use those feelings to redouble our efforts at the eventual goal of creating a new world.

Philip Moriarty

'What we and others project as near-future radical developments are discarded by critics (mostly from within the scientific establishment) as "fantasies without relevance to current reality."'

"Dicarded" is rather a strong verb to use here - it could suggest that the proposals of Freitas et al., for example, are thrown out by critics without detailed consideration. Similarly, it'd be much fairer if you moderated your statement so that it read "some critics" rather than "critics". Both Richard Jones and I (who consider ourselves critics of the "near-future radical nanotechnology" vision) have recently spent quite some time outlining detailed scientific critiques of key areas of molecular manufacturing and recent proposals for diamondoid mechanosynthesis. I suggest that you visit Richard Jones' "Soft Machines" website for details.

Mike Treder, CRN

I agree, Philip, that "discarded" is too broad, and I have revised that passage to say "often disparaged" instead.

Philip Moriarty

Thanks Mike!


Richard Jones

Mike, when you make this argument you need to beware of selection bias. History teaches us that over the years, many unorthodox ideas have been met with disbelief from the establishment, and in the fullness of time have been revealed as ... completely misguided. Many of the proponents of these ideas have used this argument in favour of them. But, as Robert Park said, to take on the mantle of Galileo it is not sufficient that you are persecuted. You actually have to be right.

Mike Treder, CRN

Yes, I'm aware that a large majority of unpopular new ideas have simply been wrong.

But not all.

Considering the range of pathways that may lead to exponential general-purpose molecular manufacturing, I believe the responsible approach is to investigate this proposed technology with vigor. We just don't know enough yet to rule out the possibility of severe societal disruption in the relatively near future, so to ignore it is an unacceptably risky response.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Philip, I do not think "discarded" is too strong a word. You talk about the proposals of Freitas--what about the work of Drexler? Nanosystems has been out for 12 years now, and it's been almost twice that long since his PNAS paper on protein engineering.

Until a few months ago, the FAQ page of the U.S. National Nanotechnology Initiative stated that "nanobots" were science fictional "creatures."

I have not seen anyone do any kind of meaningful follow-up to Nanosystems. No one else has studied what materials might be useful, how they might be built, what performance they might achieve, what might be required for product design, what throughput a nanofactory might have. No one has even quantified the benefits to be gained from a non-complex approach to productive nanoscale machinery. (See my latest science essay, archived here, for a partial exploration of these benefits.)

There are plenty of opinions. Almost without exception, the opinions are shallow. And the negative shallow opinions, like Smalley's, get far more press than the original detailed work. No one has ever taken a comparably detailed look at most of Drexler's work, much less studied the big-picture questions that would confirm or deny its importance.

Richard Jones, a determined skeptic and a smart physicist, has looked at one aspect of the work--friction vs. superlubricity--and the worst he can say is that, because Drexler used limited models, some of the surfaces he proposed probably won't work as planned. That's the most solid criticism I'm aware of from anyone, and Jones only came up with that in the last year or so. (Actually, Jones goes farther than that--he seems to think that almost no surfaces will exhibit superlubricity, but as far as I can tell that's based on opinion, not evidence.)

Unless you'd care to argue that Nanosystems has been taken seriously, I think the verb "discarded" is completely appropriate, and I encourage Mike to put it back.


Mike Treder, CRN

Chris, I'm satisfied with "often disparaged" in this usage, since it refers to "what we and others project as near-future radical developments" in general, and not to Nanosystems in particular. But it's completely accurate to say that the groundbreaking technical work begun by Drexler and others has not been adequately followed up, and has in fact been "discarded" by the scientific establishment.

Philip Moriarty


First, Freitas' work is based directly on the diamondoid mechanochemistry outlined in Chapter 8 of "Nanosystems" so a solid scientific critique of Freitas' proposals ports directly to "Nanosystems".


"There are plenty of opinions. Almost without exception, the opinions are shallow."

Wow, what a sweeping statement! When you post the entirety of my (and Richard's) recent correspondence with you on the CRN website, could we let the reader decide as to the degree of shallowness of our criticisms? [Or do you consider the arguments put forward by Richard and I as an exception to your 'shallowness' rule?]

As I write in my most recent letter to you, what I find shallow is that you would put forward a suggestion ("It would not surprise me...") that molecular manufacturing will be with us in 5 years or less and then utterly fail to support this with any type of scientific argument.

Furthermore, I've spent a considerable amount of time debating the fundamental steps in mechanosynthesis only to find that you stick steadfastly to your opinion that in molecular manufacturing "for many applications, it’s true, the chemistry used doesn’t matter much." And yet it's the critics of Nanosystems who are accused of shallowness!

"No one else has studied what materials might be useful, how they might be built, what performance they might achieve, what might be required for product design, what throughput a nanofactory might have..."

Demonstrate that the **basic** mechanosynthetic steps are feasible (which has not been done to date - see my letter dated Jan 4th '04) and the nanoscience community as a whole might see some point in devoting a significant amount of time to study Nanosystems. If *you* can't devote the time to consider the detailed physics underlying proposals by leading proponents of molecular manufacturing (as you've admitted in your recent correspondence) then how can you accuse critics of 'shallowness'. Both Richard and I have spent a considerable amount of time on basic physics with you (and raised issues which you have not yet convincingly addressed): how can you say that these arguments are "shallow"?

Richard and I have taken "Nanosystems" and Freitas' work seriously. In all of my correspondence with you I refer repeatedly to particular sections in Nanosystems - why would I do this if I had "discarded" it. Richard has adopted a similar stance.

Finally, you brought up the term "trivialities" in your most recent letter to me. Could I suggest that a debate over the use of "discarded" vs "disparaged" is plumbing the depths of 'triviality'. Put "discarded" back if you want - I leave it up to you and Mike.


PS I'd appreciate a response to the comments in my letter re. the courtesy of acknowledging Richard's input to your most recent Science and Technology essay. From my vantage point, the issues he raised certainly weren't "shallow" nor based on "opinion".

michael vassar

The most recent Wired has an interesting article on wet nanotechnology emphasizing the advantages of constructing tractable systems from scratch rather than dealing with biological complexity.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Philip, you frequently quote me out of context, and assign opinions and motivations to me that I do not have. There is no point in trying to answer your charge that I do not think mechanochemistry is important, because I have answered it several times already. Likewise, I will not answer the rest of your accusations except to say that I disagree with your version of reality.

I will answer questions on any topic from anyone with whom I am able to communicate.


Philip Moriarty


OK, that's fine with me. Nevertheless, are you going to post the documents related to our debate on the CRN website any time soon (as promised)? Otherwise it's difficult for visitors to this website to make up their own minds as to the extent to which I've quoted you out of context.

"I will answer questions on any topic from anyone with whom I am able to communicate."

I guess that means that the outstanding scientific questions/criticisms related to molecular manufacturing that I raised during our debate will remain unanswered?

If you'd rather not post our debate on the CRN website please let me know whether you are happy for the entire discussion (including e-mails) to be posted at Soft Machines.

Best wishes,



So Chris, let's see this debate, eh? I think it's good that we have people who have knowledge and experience in relevant nano-fields taking an interest in both your ideas and the research of Freitas and Merkle.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

SonofEris, it's not that easy.

First, in one of his emails, Philip quotes pretty extensively from an earlier email conversation with Drexler, and I don't have permission to post those quotes. But Philip specified that I should post it unedited.

Second, I don't see that it would be a positive thing to post the communication breakdown--it's just a lot of "You said this so you think this" "No I didn't say that". More editing.

Third, there are a lot of places where I think Philip misinterprets me, and probably some places where he misinterprets Drexler. This is all through the discussion. I'm reluctant to post those without commentary, and I'm reluctant to post them with commentary.

Here's the useful part of the debate in one paragraph. Philip thinks that Freitas's CVD method for building a tool tip handle won't work, because you'll get something closer to a faceted hemisphere (with the dimer in the middle of the flat face) than a cone. He sounds pretty convincing on that, but I'm not a CVD expert. Philip also thinks that there are problems with picking up a molecule with a dangling-bond-cleaved-tip, which is Freitas's alternative to CVD, and problems with aligning the dimer with the substrate. I'm less convinced on that; there are problems but I am far from convinced that there's no way around them.


Philip Moriarty


How bitterly disappointing that you would consider our (lengthy) debate to be:

"it's just a lot of "You said this so you think this" "No I didn't say that". "

You **know** that there are very many outstanding scientific questions and criticisms that you have yet to address. You know that we covered a lot of ground and highlighted key areas where you had a very weak understanding of basic physics and chemistry. You also know that I "gave ground" on issues of, for example, bandwidth where I had too hastily read certain sections of "Nanosystems".

Your refusal to post the debate on the CRN website is wholly reprehensible. Your stated reasons for not doing so are disingenuous. I am deeply shocked that you would do this.

If you stand by your comment “…we must realize that chemists and physicists talking about molecular manufacturing are even more unreliable than computer scientists talking about Babbage” then why don't you let the nanotechnology community read our discussion and make up their own mind as to how "unreliable" my comments have been.

Yours in disgust,


jim moore

I hope that you don’t leave the debate angry and upset. The MNT community needs critics like you and Richard Jones, experts in areas of nano-science who have taken the time and effort review the MNT literature and are offering constructive criticism. I want to personally thank you for taking the effort to review Freitas and Merkel’s diamond building proposal and pointing out what you think are going to be the biggest problems.

From reading your comments here and on the Soft Machines blog, you see a big problem with using CVD to build the handle for the dimer deposition tool tip. You will not get the tool tip at the end of sharp diamond cone but rather at the end of a “big fat diamond finger”. And the fatness of the probe will get in the way of accurately depositing the dimer into the target sites. Do you think that it might be possible to sharpen the “fat diamond finger” perhaps with careful ion beam etching? ( i am worried about accidentally destroying the dimer deposition tool with this approach)

Richard Jones

I'm appalled that after all Philip's serious work you're just going to suppress the debate. I think the reaction of any neutral onlookers will be to assume that you have completely failed to make any impact on Philip's points.

Philip Moriarty


Thanks for your kind words. I find it reprehensible that CRN are more than willing to post previous debates (e.g. Atkinson-Phoenix) in their entirety and yet when less easy-to-address criticisms are raised they argue that posting the debate is not "that easy". Chris' 'synposis' (..cough..) of the "useful part" of our debate in the final paragraph of his post above is **deeply** insulting.

Over the course of the debate, I have sent Chris a total of four letters (comprising ~ 30 pages) and there have been numerous (sometimes quite lengthy) e-mails (I've lost count but certainly > 10) back and forth. This has taken up a not-insubstantial amount of my time. Our debate not only covered Freitas' proposal but spanned a wide range of other topics related to mechanosynthesis and molecular manufacturing. Chris might not find these topics to comprise "useful debate" - I would be surprised if the nanotechnology community were to share his view. Why can't we publish the debate and find out?

Regarding your very good question re. the Freitas proposal, the person best qualified to address the fine detail of Freitas' proposal is, of course, Freitas. I have already drafted a letter to Dr. Freitas. When the debate between Chris and myself is published [either on the CRN website (which looks unlikely) or on the Soft Machines blog (http://www.softmachines.org/wordpress/index.php?p=50] then I'll send this letter to Freitas, giving him the URL for the debate, and ask him whether he would like to continue the discussion.

I've asked Chris whether he's contacted Drexler to ask permission to post the quotes that were contained in my letters (and e-mails). It's important to note, however, that the e-mails to which Chris refers were actually cc-ed to a number of people. In addition, if Drexler refuses permission to post the comments then one might also ask what he's got to hide. [The comments in the e-mails in question are purely scientific in nature.]

My very best wishes and, once again, thanks for your kind words.


Chris Phoenix, CRN

Jim, Richard,

As I said above, it's not that easy.

I am not trying to suppress anything. What--I should be afraid to have it known that there are questions that I couldn't personally answer? Or that I made a few technical mistakes in the course of the discussion, like not knowing that AFM tapping mode contacted the surface, and temporarily forgetting that electric current in water was carried by ions?

I'm in a tough position that I didn't expect to be in. I'm trying to minimize mud-slinging, wasted time, and impropriety. When I can't satisfy multiple people at once, I naturally feel less responsibility toward whoever is trying to exacerbate the problem.

Please compare my reputation, established over the past two years, with the vitriol you see above from others.

It may be worth mentioning that I promised months ago to publish an email discussion with Richard (a more useful one in my opinion), and I haven't yet gotten around to it, and I never heard anything more about it from him. So his outrage in this instance is... interesting.

It's also worth mentioning that nothing prevents Philip from publishing any subset of his comments in the debate. That would accomplish what he claims to want--an airing of his opinion of the technical problems.

I'll also mention that I asked Richard for help in communicating with Philip, and he declined.

Please don't assume that person who expresses the most outrage is in the right here. I'm doing what I can to make the best of a bad situation. Please, everyone, this is not the right forum; let's stop taking sides and fueling the fire.


Tom Craver


Linear text exposition is not a good medium for something that typically has the shape of a branching tree exploration of an issue space. Such debates in forums or email tend to quickly become impossible to follow.

In the future, why not request that debates getting started immediately move to Wiki, with all arguments made in the form of smallish "debate point" pages, linked from the previous pages to which they respond? Have Wiki email notification of responses to posts.

If debaters finally agree on something, a branch could be closed off by modifying an original leaf to state the conclusions and merely reference the history that has all the branching discussion.

Also, all posts would be explicitly public, so there aren't any "permission to post" issues after the fact.

Eventually, I could see a modified Wiki evolving, with support for debate conventions, such as defining "sides" and requiring agreement from all sides to replace original pages with "conclusion" pages.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Gaah. Time to cut my losses.

I still think that publishing the whole debate will only make everyone involved look a bit worse. I hate to have it known that I spent that long writing explanations of why Philip misquoted and misinterpreted what I said.

I refuse to spend any more time on this myself. If Philip wants to post my comments in sequence along with his--including the part where he misquoted me twice and I said we could ignore it, because it seems a lot more relevant now than it did then--then he can.

I hope this is the end of the whole sordid mess.


jim moore

The only side that I am on is pro-engagement with critics who have taken the substantial time and effort to actually read and try to understand the MNT literature. I think constructive criticism improves ideas and understanding.

If CRN's blog is not the right place for the debate, how about Wise-Nano?

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Jim, either CRN's blog or Wise-Nano is a good place for constructive discussion and criticism of MM-related ideas. Neither one is the right place for the above discussion; there is no right place; it should never have happened.

Tom, I like your idea. I may try it next time.


Philip Moriarty

The debate will be published in due course. I think we can let the reader decide as to whether the shock and disappointment I've expressed in the posts above are justified or not.


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