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Nanotechnology and Disassemblers

August 7, 2011

I can’t say how long before we see this come into full fruition, but we’ll soon be entering an age of atomically precise manufacturing.  We will build our products using “nanofactories”.  If we want something, we will download a blueprint and construct it using raw-materials.  Countless tiny machines will build the products, atom by atom, molecule by molecule. For example, if you want a new laptop computer, you will simply go online, download the blueprint, and then have your nanofactory appliance build it for you.  The same will apply for food, or anything you can presently hold in your hands.

But you may be wondering how the blueprints will be created?  How will people share the physical things they create as easily as we share videos on Youtube today?   What if you wanted to share a flat-screen TV, or a Playstation console?  How about a hot bowl of soup, a hardback book, or a set of power tools?  How will blueprints be created for these things?  Enter molecular disassemblers!

In his book Engines of Creation 2.0: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, Eric Drexler tells how all of this is going to work.

“Molecular computers will control molecular assemblers, providing the swift flow of instructions needed to direct the placement of vast numbers of atoms.  Nanocomputers with molecular memory devices will also store data generated by a process that is the opposite of assembly.

Assemblers will help engineers synthesize things; their relatives, disassemblers, will help scientists and engineers analyze things.  The case for assemblers rests on the ability of enzymes and chemical reactions to form bonds, and of machines to control the process. The case for disassemblers rests on the ability of enzymes and chemical reactions to break bonds, and of machines to control the process.  Enzymes, acids, oxidizers, alkali metals, ions, and reactive groups of atoms called free radicals — all can break bonds and remove groups of atoms.  Because nothing is absolutely immune to corrosion, it seems that molecular tools will be able to take anything apart, a few atoms at a time.  What is more, a nanomachine could (at need or convenience) apply mechanical force as well, in effect prying groups of atoms free.

A nanomachine able to do this, while recording what it removes layer by layer, is a disassembler.  Assemblers, disassemblers, and nanocomputers will work together.  For example, a nanocomputer system will be able to direct the disassembly of an object, record its structure, and then direct the assembly of perfect copies.  And this gives some hint of the power of nanotechnology.”

– Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation 2.0 – The Coming Era of Nanotechnology

This same technology will get rid of all our trash problems, and will rid our world of pollution.  You won’t throw things away; you’ll have them disassembled back into raw materials.  We’ll keep reusing the same atoms for everything.  We’ll be digging up our trash which we’ve buried in the past, and mining important raw materials for use in our new products!

See how important computers are?  They’re not only allowing us to simulate brains, create medicines and cures for diseases, and play in virtual reality, they will also be lifting our world completely out of poverty.  There will no longer be the haves and the have nots.  Everything will be so cheap that it will pretty much be free.  And it’s not all that far away.  Surely within a few generations.  I’ll see a lot of it during my lifetime.  As a physicist, I can specialize in nanotechnology, and it’s currently one of the hottest fields out there – and for good reason!

And won’t these machines suck up huge amounts of energy to produce these products?  No, not at all.  Very little energy to do both processes.  In fact, these nanomachines will SAVE energy compared to what we’re currently using.  Also, to top it off, they will allow us to build solar panels that can harvest energy WAYYYYY more sunlight than our current solar panels.  We’ll no longer need dangerous energy sources such as nuclear energy, or the dirty burning of fossil fuels.  We’ll shoot solar panels up into space and harvest all the energy we need.  We’ll have plenty of energy, and people will be free from poverty and want.

Also, considering our bodies are nanomachines, built using the DNA blueprint system, we’ll be able to decode it, and fix our bodies and any problems we encounter.  Little robots will go into your blood capillaries and repair your body from the inside, keeping you healthy and strong.  You won’t have to waste energy running on a treadmill to say in shape.  You’ll always feel good and strong.  These same nanomachines will be able to build muscles in your body, and women can augment their breasts, change their hair length, or whatever they want.

“Molecular assemblers will bring a revolution without parallel since the development of ribosomes, the primitive assemblers in the cell.  The resulting nanotechnology can help life spread beyond Earth — a step without parallel since life spread beyond the seas.  It can help mind emerge in machines — a step without parallel since mind emerged in primates.  And it can let our minds renew and remake our bodies — a step without any parallel at all.

These revolutions will bring dangers and opportunities too vast for the human imagination to grasp.  Yet the principles of change that have applied to molecules, cells, beasts, minds, and machines should endure even in an age of biotechnology, nanomachines, and artificial minds.  The same principles that have applied at sea, on land, and in the air should endure as we spread Earth’s life toward the stars.”

– Eric Drexler, Engines of Creation 2.0

There will be new struggles, but the old miseries of death, disease, boredom, and poverty will be conquered.  Hopefully we’ll be able to use our technology to remove our violent instincts as well, so we don’t use this powerful technology to kill ourselves.  Or maybe people will vent those passions in virtual reality warfare.  I don’t know.  But if we can get over these final hurdles, the human race will be safe.  I sometimes lose hope, but overall, I think we’ll make it.

Future generations will have so much fun.  As I’ve said before, I hope cures come out allowing me to live several hundred years, at least.  I want to see all of this happen.  I want to plug into VR and have some fun!  And can you imagine being able to work with the mother brain, which has all human knowledge stored in it, to create your VR world?  You just talk to it, making demands, and it creates anything you ask, working out all the complicated details.  You can go to construct your dream home and specify all that you want.  “I want statues over here.  I want a giant fountain here.  I want a lake with a dock here.  I want this area to be carpeted.  No, no red carpet.  Go with white.  This is too rough, something softer.”  The computer responds, “As you wish.”  Everything that we’ve ever created, thought of, or dreamt up, all will be available for use.  And the super computer will make it all work together.  It will know you better than you know yourself, for it will have learned what humans like and don’t like after interacting with billions of humans for hundreds, and later thousands of years.

The Christian concept of heaven sounds shallow compared to this.  We don’t need deities to get there.  We just need to work for a bit longer on our technology.

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