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« Your "To Do List" | Main | Scaling Laws—Back to Basics »

August 02, 2004


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Tom Craver

A hierarchy is perfectly designed to filter the flow of significant information upward - and often that filter is "what the boss wants to hear" - so decisions made at the top are often based on bad data.

Meanwhile, the structure pumps more and more energy into any event/decision propagating downward, insuring that a bad decision has the most expensive, most disastrous possible impact. Anyone resisting a decision tends to be swept out of the way.

Centralized solutions are best at handling day-to-day, well understood issues. That doesn't sound like a useful model for handling the introduction of nanotech.

Tom Craver

The above was addressed to issue "G".

Nothing we do will prevent bad things from happening. Maybe we can influence the scale of the bad things that happen - global or localized - by appropriate choice of control structure (if any).

Mike Deering

"Several technology trends point to molecular manufacturing, or equivalent capability, being developed around the 2020-2030 time frame."

Yes, these trends are so strong that if we don't develop MM by 2025 it will probably develop itself.

Economic forces will not allow it to be delayed anywhere near that long. And these dates (2020-2030) are assuming steady progress along established lines of research, not radical breakthroughs and sudden changes in direction of research which is common.

I have always thought that the nanofactory would be the result of a small team, not associated with a large company, using a technological development in a new way. I remember when the PC was invented, not by IBM, but by Steve Wozniak in his garage using the 4004, developed for mainframes and widget computers, in a way that hadn't been envisioned by Intel or IBM. Well, I think the same thing is going to happen with the nanofac. Some tech development for large scale chip manufacturing will be used in a desktop machine for diamondoid mechanochemistry. And the tech development has just occurred. It is http://www.trnmag.com/Stories/2004/072804/Electric_fields_assemble_devices_072804.html this molecular manufacturing hardware design. Drexler has always said that his "all mechanical" nanomachinery designs were just a proof of concept and that engineers would figure out a better way to do the same thing. But I still see experts in the field trudging on, planning for the development of rod logic computers, pick-and-place nanorobotic assemblers, and nanomachinery with pressure transducer communications. This all mechanical nanoparadigm is not the wave of the future. No. No. No. The real nanomachinery will be highly sophisticated electro-optical mechanical systems. Photons for communications, electric motors for movements, electric fields for hands, and opto-electronic molecular computers for computation are the future of nanomachinery. Drexler's convergent assembly is really impractical for anything as complicated and delicate as a live frog. This electric field method is perfect for the substrate-scaffold approach. The scaffold would grow out from the bottom and sides of the assembly chamber from self assembling struts in solution. The struts would only attach to the existing scaffold because of the electric field pattern at the growing boundary controlled by the central computer, thus keeping unplanned self assembly from causing voids in the structure or free floating debris. The development of the desktop PC was not an accident that could have been avoided, it was a technological inevitability. If Wozniak hadn't done it, a hundred others were set to make the same invention. The same applies with the nanofac. Once the technology is in place to make it possible, it has to happen.

Mike Deering

That link did'n come out on the last post, so here it is again:


Mike Deering

Rats, still didn't come out. I guess you could GOOGLE news search for "Electric fields assemble devices"

Tom Craver

Mike: Nit pick'n time - Woz used a 6502, which was I believe a Rockwell part? It was an odd little processor - most of the registers were memory mapped somewhere in the low 256 bytes of it's 64K address space. I believe it ran at all of about 100K instructions a second.

But I'd point out that the correct analogy to the PC would have a nanotech industry already existing to service the military, industry and business, when some small garage group will find a way to make a home assembler affordable. That scenario might apply, if nanotech develops as an extension of silicon lithography, requiring a huge capital investment and churning out expensive nanoscale parts in large volumes. I'm not saying I think that's the most likely path, but it's probably not impossible.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

G's, I must have been in a really grim mood when I wrote this study!

One thing I should clarify: subquestions G and H are continuations of F: "_If_ international cooperation is necessary..."

There are other ways of setting up structures of coordination and/or accountability that do not rely on nations. Some of them don't follow a governmental model. I think I'll have to revise this study to include/acknowledge a wider variety of possible options.

Of course, designing anything along non-government lines will probably take at least as much effort as designing a good government-type approach. So the overall point remains: We have two choices--accept that extreme _and unpredictable_ change is coming, or study molecular manufacturing urgently and creatively.


Brett Bellmore

"Drexler's convergent assembly is really impractical for anything as complicated and delicate as a live frog."

Ah, but you could always convergently assemble a cryo-preserved frog, and then thaw it out... ;) Engineering is the art of finding workarounds, after all.

michael vassar

Obviously, convergent assembly of even a cryopreserved frog requires much more than diamondoid assemblers, and also requires some much more sophisticated technique for holding the pieces together that the expanding ridge joints from Chris's paper. It may be interesting to determine whether such joints would enable the assembly (by non-carbon specific assemblers) of frozen food products or whether the lack or ridgidity of softer substances such as food makes the expanding ridge inapplicable even at low temperatures.


First like to say that I totally agree with "mike deering" point that when the molecular us assembler can be manufactured, it will be manufactured this has been a theme that has been repeated time and time again in the past whether it be the automobile the airplane the microwave they cellphone and even the Internet. When something can be built it will be built. On a negative side the atomic bomb can also be added to that list.

Second I would like to that is I wish I could say something profound and positive as to the direction of this technology is going but my concern is growing. I started reading extensively on the subject some ten years ago and and have attempted to follow in the arguments pros and cons for this issue. As to policy in the beginning days of the molecular assembler order can probably be maintained by a large organization that is one of the major world governments is my opinion that I hope the United States acquires this technology first but I recognize that a small group of thoughtful and committed people can change the world, one is left with the possibility that Japan, Russian, China, India and or even Great Britain well probably not Great Britain :) could produce the first assembler again in the opening days if opened war can be avoided and if attempts to educate and communicate with the other nations giving them insurances that the benefits of this technology will be shared and should not be looked at as threatening.

Now that I have said this, once I reread what I wrote, I don't sound that convincing. That is if I were a government leader of one of the other three countries would I believe a country that had develop molecular manufacturing. Would share and help in the development of my country. One thing they could be done is a sign agreement amongst the group of leading countries that if molecular manufacturing was developed and became available this technology would be shared and all would gain from its benefits. I am not that old but I believe this agreement would be unprecedented in the past.

Given a fundamental believe I have that is their will be more than one way to build a assembler. That indeed many avenues will arrive at the same crossroads and construct a assembler. Whether particle laser, robotics, DNA, or electric fields are used to construct the assembler. One will be built in the near future and will change the world. As stated above it is inevitable.

We're left with a series of "what ifs" as to how to continue and prepare for the coming of molecular manufacturing. If in a scenario the United States develops a molecular assembler using a pick in place diamond lattice manufacturing technique. Then begins deployment of molecular assembler's throughout military forces and some civilian sectors assuming a secure network control of products to be manufactured that is the assembler will only work based on designs downloaded from a secure server while connected to the server although that said it seems limited, a military standpoint if one cannot establish a connection than the usefulness of the assembler is negated. Once again following this scenario the options for the continuing deployment of the assembler is to the general public become opened two major elements immediately come to mind one is the availability of energy and two is the availability of food. Assuming a preparedness and a stockpiling of small two buy two foot assembler's stockpiled throughout the country a schedule could be established for the deployment to the general public once again if military control of the assembler is where maintained and not leaked to black markets during at least the first few months one could lay the foundation for a smooth transition and deployment of this technology. It is difficult though to see a scenario where real positive impact could be made by the military in the construction of new power plants and infrastructure and in the building of large automated greenhouses for production of food prior to the deployment of the assembler to the general public as one could envision several thousand assembler is working in a location constructing a structure being utilized by many hundreds of individuals only one of these assemblers would need to come up missing and we have a problem Houston. But again if a pulmonary plan was in place given locations and estimated power needs along with estimated food production and food needs for the entire country or perhaps even the entire world than a concerted timely effort could be made by the military prior to deployment to the general public that is the military in United States must 3 million with perhaps an additional 3 million in support they could be trusted with the assembler and given even just a few months time much good could be done and in place prior to deployment to the general public it's hard to see how this could be kept secret from the general public without construction underground which could be done but seems unlikely given to timeframe involved. Personally I believe that large groups of people will leave their current jobs and began a new life somewhere else been aided by the molecular assembly technology this believe is perpetuated by having worked for some 50 different companies and corporations around United States and seemed great numbers of employees that are not happy with their current jobs and if given the opportunity to leave would take up the offer.

So as stated above it even 15 percent of the workforce were to conclude that freedom given to them by the assembler is preferable to the drudgery of working in a job they do not like. Conclude that they will not go to work the next day also one should consider that is 15 percent is married and their spouses will not be going to work the next day and their children will not be going to school the next day this will significantly disrupt the ability for a company to function in a useful manner now. One could conclude that most companies are not valuable anyway and not contribute to the human race as a whole anyway so if one was to establish priorities in what companies and industries that are important to the species this could also be done. As stated above the power industry is very important as we will want to keep the lights and power running although it is also interesting to note if individuals leave the city's and move out to the country they may easily leave the power grid anyway as they move outside of locations where cable is run this gives back by estimate the 15 percent power increased to the total usage by everyone else. Also the farming and food production and distributing industries need to be maintained for the near future to distribute food as needed to everyone in the country also hospitals should be given as members of this list they will also require resources themselves by the drugs bandages and other hospital items these industries also need to be maintained in the near future. So from a standpoint of shortlist we will need power food hospitals military and government for the for seeable future. It should be noted that all of these will fall away as the deployment of new technologies continue and as a industry they become less and less important.

On the list of additional preparations they could be made given a few months timeframe before deployment of the molecular assembler to the general public. One could complete a list of useful items and design examples of each of useful items one could design a fork knife spoon plate from the basic standpoint for replication but also one could design a large 10 bedroom home complete with heating electrical air-conditioning water purification a well and on-site power generation complete with solar power windmill and perhaps thermal energy capabilities. Also a large greenhouse capable of producing quantities of food with some level of automation and again water and power purification and generation built-in. So with a general set of useful items designed completed and some pulmonary testing done this would ease the transition from a society living in discomfort to close to one another in large cities to a society distributed throughout the countryside in relative comfort and ease. Is not difficult for me to imagine a life free from desire and the need to suffer day-to-day at a job I do not like. So you see it seems reasonable for me to believe that many others will wish a life of ease in the countryside away from the pollution crime smog and many other negatives attributed to the city life.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Re: Frogs and Food: The point of the ridge joints is to make a very strong bond. For food, simply pushing smooth blocks of ice together at low temperature should make them stick strongly enough by Van der Waals force. For living tissue, I don't know how best to stitch it together: would a lipid bilayer embedded in a joined block of water-glass form a continuous membrane when the water thawed? What about macromolecular protein and carbohydrate structures? What about chromosomes? Maybe chromosomes could be frozen chopped up, with repair enzymes frozen next to each break... But I'm just guessing about all this.


Brett Bellmore

They already have "cell jet" tissue printers, on an experimental basis.



If you're trying to construct a living organism, intact cells are probably the smallest unit you want to be dealing with. (With special provisions for dealing with cell types such as neurons which have extreme aspect ratios.) Though I could easily see a mixed system integrating living cells with diamonoid nanotech, to provide things like a skeleton. I suspect if you really wanted an effective system, the cells would have to be engineered to some extent, to cope with the added stress of assembly, given that circulation couldn't be established until the organism was complete.

Alternatively, you could use convergent assembly to put together a scaffold of non-living material which chemical markers controlling cell colonization, or implanted with programed cells in a highly durable "spore" state.

There's no question that a general purpose living organism factory is a more complex proposition than a diamondoid nanotech factory, but I don't see any real show stoppers. Organ manufacturing machines are an obvious first step, and are already being worked on.

Food creation can be approached from two directions: Either the creation of nutrious simulations of real foodstuffs, or generation of the actual ingredients. The latter approach is more the domain of genetic engineering than MNT, though.

Mike Deering

If you planning on printing a live frog with a "cell jet" tissue printer, circulation need not be a big problem. Cells can survive for quite a while at 5 degrees C without circulation. It would depend on how fast your printer was. The nerve cell problem could be solved by printing the nerve cell body at the proper location and printing a track of axon or dendrite growth chemicals where needed. The tracks would guide and accelerate the growth of the nerve cell extremities. Of course the frog would be paralyzed until the nerves could grow into place. The frog would need mechanical assistance for circulation until the heart control nerves had grown. Fortunately those tracks could be engineered very short, no need to run them all the way back to the brain just to keep sinusoidal rhythm.

Brett Bellmore

You'd be better off printing little segments of axons with some mechanism to promote their post printing fusion, though dentrites might be handled that way. Natural growth of axons is pretty slow, about a millimeter a day.


Seems to me that the safest approach would be to keep the body living all through construction. Start with artificial substitutes for all critical bodily functions, to keep everything healthy as you work. Build the molecules and cells and other substances outside the body to allow easy removal of damaging waste heat. Build the components of the body up in parallel, and merge them - convergent assembly again.

The brain would be the hardest, assuming you're trying to duplicate the memories of the body you're duplicating, as each neuron will be unique (structurally and probably chemically) and need to go in precisely the right place, "tangled" in precisely the right way with the others.

Mike Deering

The way I understand the cell jet printer is that anything you can get to flow through the micro tubing to the jets, you can shoot into the target. This includes cultured cells in fluid, a wide range of biological chemicals and enzymes, and various artificial resins for structure. I don't think that includes the capability to orient the cells mechanically, although you may get cells to self orient on a scaffold such as muscle cells do. I also don't think it includes diamondoid molecular construction. If we are limiting ourselves to current technology then I don't think we can consider shooting nerve axon segments that are oriented properly for convergent growth. Also, how are you going to culture the axon segments? I guess you could culture whole nerve cells and then chop them up, but I don't know if that would work. It may be beyond our present capabilities to cell jet a live frog exactly like the original, but what about a pseudo-frog, partly living cells and partly artificial structures? We could use biologically compatible epoxy resins for bone, tendons, ligaments, and cartilage. For the nervous system we use engineered neurons that have very short extremities and use electrical impulses to communicate and we jet print conductors between them. This rather rigid arraignment would preclude learning as the system would not be set up for new connections to form, but how much new stuff does a frog need to learn? All the frog knowledge would have to be hardwired into the frog from the beginning. But I'll bet if it was hopping around your backyard pond that you couldn't tell the difference.

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