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« Orwellian ideas from Wired News | Main | Small Distances, Big Forces »

September 21, 2005


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Jamais Cascio

Thanks, Chris. This is a useful clarification and update. The divide between mundane and fantastic makes sense, although I'm curious about the inclusion of nanomedical technologies in the "fantastic" category. There are already some fairly primitive medical uses of nanoscale technologies, usually with a macroscale interaction (I'm thinking of the IR-illuminated nanoparticles as a method of killing cancer cells). There's also some research use of carbon nanotubes as the base material for tissue scaffolding. Nothing at all like the cholesterol-zapping nanobots of our Dorito-laden dreams, but certainly just as nanotech as (say) nanopants.

Tom Craver

Since the NNI has pretty much taken control of the term "nano", and continues to usurp new terms like "nanomanufacturing", how about switching to "mole" for terminology?

"moletech" - catchier than molecular nanotech or MNT.
"molefactory" - an MNT factory
"molefacture" - to build in a molefactory
"molepart" - a molecular-scale component
"moletecture" - a design using moleparts
"moleactive" - having powered moleparts

Pace Arko

Sigh. I've been reading news about the marketroids, research grants and government functionaries usurping the terminology for four or so years now and I don't know if coming up with new terms at this will really help.

I'm sure that software engineers are still irritated with harddrive specs in ads magazines that don't distinguish between binary megabytes (MiBs) which accurately count storage space and decimal "MegaBytes" (MB) which don't.

So it goes.

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Jamais, I didn't say or intend that all medical nanotech was fantastic. And I wasn't thinking at all about nanoscale technologies. I was thinking about things closer to the "bloodstream nanobot" end of the spectrum.

Among molecular-manufactured medical devices that have been proposed, about the only semi-non-fantastic one I can think of is Freitas's respirocytes; they may have simple enough functionality that we could engineer them with what we know today. Some of Freitas's other proposed devices may be non-fantastic, but I haven't studied in enough detail to say for sure.

Tom, Drexler tried "zetta" as a prefix a year or two ago, and it didn't get anywhere. "Mole" seems a bit better, because it sounds like both Avogadro's number and molecular.

Note that CRN chose to use "molecular manufaturing" rather than "molecular nanotechnology" to describe the field. "Molefacturing" seems better than "nano-manufacturing" (which is ambiguous). But "moleblock" and "molefactory" don't have the ring for me that "nanoblock" and "nanofactory" do.

Start using it and see if it catches on.



" 'Mole' seems a bit better, because it sounds like both Avogadro's number and molecular."

It also sounds like a small furry mammal that blights home owners' gardens with heaps of excavated earth; you might want to avoid this connotation. Maybe it's just me, but I found Tom's post rather humorous, if not subtly satirical :)

Joking aside, I believe the "nano"-prefix is pretty much lost for MNT and will only return to its origins (Engines of Creation) when scientific theory, scientific experiment, and engineering agree beyond reasonable doubt that MNT in form of a nanofactory is possible. I would consider "engineering agrees" as "there is a functional prototype of a nanomanipulator that does basic mechanochemistry and we have the ability to integrate billions of them into a working factory". This might also mean that preparing for nanotechnology as CRN understands it is only possible when that agreement has been achieved, because until then, CRN's "nanotechnology" and the public's "nanotechnology" will mostly represent two different things.

Until this return of "nano" to its origins, however, CRN should stay true to nano's history, because when the time comes, you will not have to change the prefix AGAIN to fit the new old fashion.

Phillip Huggan

I like Molecular Manufacturing because MM is versatile. The subject can be MMed, a MMer, or just plain MM to suggest Molecular Manufacture. The suffixes can even be dropped without the idea conveyed being lost. MNTing and MNTed pronounced "minted" and "minting" to imply nanofactories or nanoproducts, still has appeal to me too.


"...they will be easier to develop than most nanotechnologists realize -- and because a few do realize it, nanofactories might be developed early and take a lot of people even in the nanotech community by surprise."

Why do few nanotechnologists realise how easy nanofactories will be to develop? I've heard this claim many times but never really heard any explanation of exactly why. Is it because each is concentrating on their own little piece, and so is blinded to the broader picture?

Chris Phoenix, CRN

Most nanotechnologists are working with complex analog phenomena at the limits of theory. Nanofactories will depend on straightforward digital phenomena using mostly decades-old theory.

Many nanotechnologists have heard the party line that "nanobots are impossible" and "ignore Drexler." Some have never looked for themselves.

Living organisms are insanely complex. Some nanotechnologists, especially those who study biology, have the idea that this complexity is 1) good and 2) necessary for any large nano-based device. Ain't so, any more than a billion-transistor computer chip has to be complex. (It's very intricate, but not complex.)

It takes a modern PC about a week to do a mole of transistor operations. It will do them all flawlessly, in a very intricate pattern. If we can design this, we can design a nanofactory.

In fact, the nanofactory will be easier in some ways, because it doesn't need as much software. (The accompanying CAD program could have lots and lots of software, but even a relatively simple program would be able to specify simple products. A nanofactory will be a comparatively simple product.)



Also look here:

http://www.niac.usra.edu/studies/study.jsp?id=883&cpnum=02-02&phase=I&last=Toth-Fejel&first=Tihamer&middle=&title=Modeling%20Kinematic%20Cellular%20Automata:%20An%20Approach%20to%20Self-Replication&organization=Veridian%20Systems%20Division,%20Inc.&begin_date=2003-10-01%2000:00:00.0&end_date=2004-03-31%2000:00:00.0> (pleeease give back html, or make auto-parsing optional).
This study says a nanofactory would be as complex as a Pentium 4 microprocessor.

Here you find a nice Wired article about eMachineShop, a personal manufacturing service.

Philip Moriarty

Dave asks "Why do few nanotechnologists realise how easy nanofactories will be to develop?" as if there's already a viable pathway to nanofactory development. He also asks whether the general scepticism re. nanofactories is a question of nanotechnologists being "blinded to the bigger picture"! Is it not just a little patronising to assume that those who don't embrace MNT are somehow lacking in vision? You may like to visit http://www.softmachines.org/wordpress/?p=130 for an alternative viewpoint!

Chris replies: "Many nanotechnologists have heard the party line that "nanobots are impossible" and "ignore Drexler." Some have never looked for themselves."

...and some have. Please feel free, if you wish, to continue to ignore the input/efforts of those in the scientific community who have spent the time to critique MNT concepts. I note from previous posts on the CRN blog that scepticism is apparently seen as unwelcome and something to avoid. In any scientific venture, a healthy dose of scepticism is generally extremely useful. It is only by addressing your critics' lack of faith in nanofactory development that you'll streamline your ideas and perhaps approach a *material-specific* concept rather than put forward broad generalisations as is currently the case. If the criticism and advice of MNT sceptics were taken on board (rather than being ignored) there may well be benefits for both the MNT and - for want of a better term - 'conventional' nanotech communities. For example, the development of scanning probe atomic/molecular manipulation strategies for MNT (a la Freitas, Merkle et al.) is producing theoretical data that are of value for both the MNT and conventional nanotech communities.

Best wishes,


PS I agree with Matt - please put HTML parsing back. (It took me long enough to find out that I could use it in the first place...!)

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