It's official: molecular manufacturing could be the second industrial revolution.
Physics professor Michio Kaku was interviewed on Fox News, talking about the virus-built battery that MIT's Angela Belcher has achieved. Prof. Kaku had a lot to say about molecular manufacturing in the interview:
"The holy grail of manufacture is to create a molecular factory, that is using viruses and molecules to cut, splice, and dice other molecules to create computers, laptops, transistors, and batteries for your car."
Although I expect future molecular manufacturing systems will use a more direct method than engineered viruses, the idea of "cut, splice and dice other molecules" to create products is certainly what molecular manufacturing is about.
"A virus cuts and splices other molecules together. .... At the key juncture, then you manufacture billions of these things .... This could set off a second industrial revolution. Imagine molecular factories creating Pentium chips. Molecular factories creating batteries."
So, he's talking about have massively parallel operations, being done by billions of molecular machines (viruses, in this case). So what's the big picture?
Yep, he said it: Molecular manufacture.
"We're talking about a new way of manufacturing almost everything. Instead of having robots that are gigantic and clumsy, you now have molecular robots, because what does a virus do? A virus cuts and splices and dices other molecules. So why not use that molecular ability to create a whole plethora of things for the computer age and the electric age? And so this could remove many bottlenecks in our manufacturing industry."
There's something almost Feynman-esque in his turns of phrase. Not only do we get molecular manufacturing of advanced products, but he expects it to have a large impact on the manufacturing industry as a whole.
At the end of the interview, the interviewer asks, "Just to be clear, you're a believer, right?" Kaku answers without hesitation: "In molecular manufacture. That could be the future - a second industrial revolution."
When CRN was founded in late 2002, one of our major goals was for people to accept that molecular manufacturing is coming. It seemed a long way off. And, in high tech, six and a half years is a long time. A lot of time in which there still hasn't been much discussion of the broader implications of molecular manufacturing. But I think we can say that that goal has now been pretty much achieved.
It's now time for CRN to focus even harder on those broader implications. One of the things that Prof. Kaku did not cover is the idea of factories building factories, so that for the first time in history, manufacturing capacity will not be scarce. He talked about electrical and electronic products, but not about mechanical products - including weapons. He did not discuss the economic, social, medical, and political impacts of molecular manufacturing. Of course, he couldn't, in a four-minute interview. But that's where the discussion needs to go next.
(Hat tip to Tristan Hambling.)