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« A Blogland Birthday | Main | Amateur Revolution? »

October 02, 2004


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Chris's arguments about practical error-tolerant engineering design of nanosystems are persuasive, but I hope we can see some contrarians develop their arguments further. The more objections we can see now, the faster we can engineer around them. I wish nano-contrarians would come out in public and provide a decently reasoned defense of their skepticism.

jim moore

Richard Jones has pointed out that machines designed to work in a warm wet nano-scale environment can not use the Drexlerian approach, which requires solids moving in a vacuum. The warm wet nano-scale environment is very important because it is the biological environment. Working in this biological environment will require working with and understanding soft machines.

He has a book out called Soft Machines, if you google his name and book you will get some good links.

jim moore

Just to be clear, although I think that Dr. Jones is correct about machines working at the nano-scale in a biological environment, I think that the Drexlerian approach is amazingly useful. If programable carbon based nano-factories can be created our world will change in fundamental ways.

michael vassar

The drexlerian approach allows the production of fantastically powerful tools compared to what we have now. Drexlerian nanomanipulators don't need to work in a biological environment. They can build tools that can serve that purpose. Such tools can revolutionize medicine without any major improvement in our understanding being necessary. I suggest you look at Frietas's book "Nanomedicine"

jim moore

As I said, amazingly useful, but not optimized for interaction with sub cellular biological parts. I think that one of Dr. Jones's points is that you can build machine like systems out of soft parts that will work well in a warm wet nano-scale environment. Improving our understanding comes with improving our tools, controllable nano-scale interaction with biological structures/ systems is the goal of nano-medicine. Soft machines should provide a better interface with biological systems in comparison to hydrogen terminated diamond. Now I can see that the two approaches can be combined you could have a diamondiod "back bone" that maintains structure and provides information and some energy, On top of the diamondiod "back bone" you have an active jelly that senses and controllably inter acts with biological systems.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Or a diamond core with squishy interfaces to biosystems. In addition to high material strength and compact efficiency, diamond is relatively easy to engineer.

I don't see why stiff machines can't interface with squishy molecules. Stiff binding sites, possibly with one or two hinges, should work just fine.

It may be that squishy machines can ultimately pack more complexity of bio-relevant function into the smallest packages. But complex systems are very hard to engineer. Why have digital computers driven analog computers almost to extinction? Because it's easier to engineer them. I suspect that even for nanomedicine, diamondoid will win over squishy as soon as we develop molecular manufacturing. For any larger or less complex machines, diamondoid wins hands-down.

Richard Jones likes squishy machines. That's fine. But he shouldn't go around saying that Drexler-style robots can't interface with biology. They can. Efficiency of operation is not the only criterion; if it were, we'd all be driving Sterling-engine-powered golf carts, raising marijuana for paper and textiles, and programming in assembly language.


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