Reader Mike Deering asked:
Lots of us get bookstore gift certificates for Christmas. I was wondering if you had a list of recommendations for books that are good regarding molecular manufacturing?
Thanks for the question, Mike. Here is a short list compiled by CRN's Director of Research, Chris Phoenix:
Engines of Creation, by K. Eric Drexler (1986) — Although outdated in some respects, this book remains a classic introduction to the potential of nanotechnology. The manufacturing mechanism described, a collection of semi-autonomous cooperating “assemblers,” has been superceded by a model far more similar to conventional factories; this development obsoletes the book's most famous warning, about runaway self-replicators or “grey goo.” Although Engines was written in the political context of the U.S.-Soviet conflict, its broader warnings about military implications and the need for wise policy still have great value. Many of the author’s predictions and recommendations are relevant and forward-looking two decades after publication. (The entire book is available online.)
Kinematic Self-Replicating Machines, by Robert A. Freitas Jr. and Ralph C. Merkle (2004) — In its broadest sense, ‘replication’ means simply the building of a copy; the replicator need not be autonomous or even physical (it could be simulated). KSRM is worth reading for several reasons. First, it contains a wide-ranging and near-encyclopedic survey of replicators of all types. Second, it contains a taxonomy of 12 design dimensions containing 137 design properties, most of which can be varied independently to describe new classes of replicators. Third, it includes a discussion on the design and function of several molecular manufacturing-style replicators (again, in the broad sense; these are not the dangerous autonomous kind). The book puts molecular manufacturing in a broader context and is a rich source of insights. (The entire book is available online.)
Nanofuture, by J. Storrs Hall (2005) — Nanofuture combines a layman's introduction to molecular manufacturing with a description of some of its possible applications. The discussion of implications is scanty and rather optimistic, but the reader will get a good sense of how and why molecular manufactured products could transform—and often revolutionize—many of the technologies we use in daily life.
Nanomedicine, Volume I: Basic Capabilities, by Robert A. Freitas Jr. (1999) — This book was written to lay a foundation for subsequent volumes applying molecular manufacturing to medicine. As a fortunate side effect, it also lays the foundation for many other applications of the technology. Although some of the chapters are heavily medical, much of the book deals with technical capabilities such as sensing, power transmission, and molecular sorting. Scattered throughout are many useful physics formulas applied to real-world nanoscale, microscale, and macroscale problems. As such, it is useful on its own or as a companion to Nanosystems. (The entire book is available online.)
Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing and Computation, by K. Eric Drexler (1992) — This book is the foundational textbook and reference book of the field. Although not accessible to non-technical readers, it makes a clear technical case, grounded in well-established physics and chemistry, that molecular manufacturing can work as claimed. Several of its key theoretical extrapolations, such as superlubricity, have since been demonstrated by experiment. Although others remain to be confirmed, no substantial error has yet been found. (Partially available online.)
Our Molecular Future, by Douglas Mulhall (2002) — This book explores some of the implications and applications of molecular manufacturing, including its applicability to mitigating a variety of natural disasters. The proposal to deal with threatening asteroids by breaking them apart with self-replicating robots appears both unworkable and unwise, but aside from this, the book provides interesting food for thought as to how molecular manufacturing might be used.
Unbounding the Future, by K. Eric Drexler, Christine Peterson, and Gayle Pergamit (1991) — A good companion book to Engines of Creation, this provides a somewhat more focused look at how molecular manufacturing might work, how it might be developed, and what opportunities and issues it might create. (The entire book is available online.)