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« Tabletop Fabrication | Main | Global Malnutrition and Human Misery »

February 16, 2004


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Mike Deering

If you think things are moving fast now, wait six months. They will be moving even faster.


Fast in science doesn't necessarily translate into fast in bringing to market. The process of commercializing a new advance is a laborious and slow one. I comment on this in relation to life extension medicine in this post at Fight Aging, but I think that the same principles apply here.


It's easy to be dazzled by the raw speed of science nowadays - and then be left wondering where all those advances went two or three years later. There's a lot of reporting on science, and far too little reporting on the process of commercialization.

Founder, Longevity Meme

Mr. Farlops

I agree with Reason. Despite the increasing rate scientific discovery due to improvements in instrumentation and the arrival of the Internet, getting these things out in the real world takes much more time than you'd expect given the slowness of business, capitol gathering and governmental approval.

Obviously government can always be made more efficient but rather than flog that increasingly cliched horse what can be done to speed up and improve the efficiency of capitalism and business? (It was always one of my old jokes, having seen the really silly things done in successful businesses both large and small, that capitalism is only marginally more efficient that socialism.) So what do we do? Replace all the MBAs with expert systems? Ban all useless dilbert-esque meetings? Require marketing to stop wasting time on f2f and pointless convention going?

Chris Phoenix, CRN

There are lots of different markets. And the market is only one way for things to get used. There's also military applications, semi-planned economies, hobbyists...

Molecular manufacturing won't be an incremental advance. Its products will be many orders of magnitude ahead of their competitors. And it'll have a huge number of possible applications, so even if just a small fraction are adopted quickly, it'll still be able to make a huge difference.

If the Powers That Be wanted nanofactories to be adopted rapidly, it would be very simple. Just build a small nanofactory with a few brightly colored preprogrammed buttons and a "starter cartridge" of feedstock sufficient to make a few inflatable toys.

Then put one in every Happy Meal(TM). Include a note to the parents that for only $29.99 activation fee, plus overpriced refills, plus licensing costs, they can plug the nanofactory into the USB port of any Windows computer and download additional product designs.



All of the above is true of many other industries...but I think we'll never see it happen in reality until there are speeding advances in basic business processes and human interactions common to all attempts to enact large scale changes, top down or bottom up.

Each of the comparatively simple, glossed over logistics exercises in your example above would require a few years to put together, even if the technology is in hand.

Founder, Longevity Meme

Derek Lowe

That person who laughed at you for saying that drug design was an arcane art - were they, by any chance, actually employed in the drug design field?

I ask because I am (it's the usual subject of my blog.) And I've been doing it since 1989, and I can tell you that it's still pretty flippin' arcane, most days. If it weren't, we'd have more drugs.


um... how is there any need for "regulatory approval" outside of medicine?

you don't need the "feds" to approve 90nm lithography or whatever

you pesssimists need some acquaintance with the real world...

if it actually works, applications come fast...

but the bench is different from a highspeed fab, and thats where issues crop up.. science works but you need the industrial engineering...

although if you have alignment insensitive optics, i can pretty well guarantee some massive funding and a crash implementation, given the typically massive labour usage in optical device manufacturing!

michael vassar

The big difference between molecular manufacturing and most science advances is that it can build its own infrastructure for production. Designs are enough with regard to mass production. Markets don't need to be researched because many existing products can be made, just far more cheaply. Much time will be required to build Engines of Creation, (most of it will probably never happen), but weeks or at most months should be all it takes to bring laboratory breakthroughs to mass production and mass distribution.

Robin Green

Michael Vassar - what is the distinction you are drawing between "molecular manufacturing" and "engines of creation"? I didn't realise there was one. Or do you mean the outcomes predicted in the book "Engines of Creation"?

michael vassar

Engines of Creation predicts certain technologies that require molecular manufacturing for their development, but makes little investigation into how much engineering and/or science said technologies would require Beyond the mere availability of molecular manufacturing. It also promotes a biologically inspired paradigm for molecular manufacturing which is severely dated, relying on somewhat autonomous "nanorobots" finding molecules in a tank and putting them in place. Modern proposals more closely resemble existing mass production techniques.

Richard Jones

Robin, I do think there is an important distinction between "Engines of Creation" and "Molecular Manufacturing", though it's not necessarily the one that Michael is making. In Engines of Creation, Drexler proposed radical nanotechnology as a goal - functional devices on the nanoscale, drawing inspiration from cell biology at least at the level that cell biology provides existence proofs. However, Engines is fairly vague about the details of the means proposed to achieve this goal. Then in "Nanosystems" Drexler outlines a very specific means to achieve the goal of radical nanotechnology, involving diamondoid mechanosynthesis and the highly mechanical paradigm that has become associated with the terms MNT, molecular manufacturing etc. I would strongly argue that there are other means - perhaps many other means - by which the goals of radical nanotechnology can be achieved, and MNT may well not be the best one.

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