An earlier article of Mike's inspired the following conversation.
Hal: Do any nanotechnologists actually support [CRN's] 15-year timeline?
NanoEnthusiast: Hal, from what I have seen, CRN's 15-year timeline is predicated on the assumption that the whole world, or at least the United States, will drop whatever other research is going on in other fields and focus exclusively on MNT...
Recently, I have seen a number of significant (sometimes breakthrough) advances in practical molecular construction techniques. These are not just milestones, like the first engineered protein fold; they are stepping stones.
A year or so ago, I took a quick survey of several leading molecular manufacturing researchers. They generally thought our timeline was reasonable, or at least plausible, and some agreed with it.
My earlier post today on approaching nanofactories did not directly address timeline, but should have made it clear that incremental progress in rapidly-developing fields is moving us straight toward a nanofactory.
My other post on cubic-micron DNA constructions should make it clear that we could be very close to building billion-atom molecular machines. In fact, I don't think there's anything we don't know how to do, in principle--it's just a matter of combining techniques. It would probably take several smallish research teams a few years to develop the entire infrastructure required to build a new, ten-billion-atom cubic-micron construction every week at a cost of under a million dollars per block (and far less per additional copy).
This would not be molecular manufacturing, because it would use large machines to make small products. But it would be a massively useful enabling technology.
There are already other techniques under development for making large regular and semi-regular 3D arrays of DNA that can be decorated with other molecules. There will probably be some creative thought coming from those projects as to what could be put into a heterogeneous directly-manufactured array. That would create concrete wishes for the manufactured-DNA-construct system to build. More generally, as the broad field of nanotechnology moves from discovering new phenomena to trying to build inventions, they will be wanting something better than self-assembly. That will help to drive projects like this.
If a large country or company put a Manhattan project-like focus on MM--not a total redirection, just hiring a few thousand scientists--starting today, I think we could certainly have biomolecule-based MM in well under ten years, and maybe less than five. If someone has been focusing on it for the past ten years, we could have it any time now.
How long it will take to get from biomolecules to diamondoid is a matter of opinion. Personally, I think it will likely be pretty quick. Biomolecules build silica in water, silica builds diamond in vacuum.
And big biomolecule machines are just one of several promising pathways to diamond-building nanomachines.
Yes, it's coming soon.