[extropy-chat] Responsible Nanotechnology Newsletter
iph1954 at msn.com
Sun Jan 1 17:28:24 UTC 2006
C-R-Newsletter #36: December 31, 2005
To read this on the Web, with nice formatting and hyperlinks, go to
NOTE: In the items below, links are indicated with [brackets], and shown at
the end of each section.
We wrap up our third year, appropriately, with monthly newsletter #36.
Heres wishing all our readers a prosperous and joyous 2006!
- CRN Goes to Yale
- New President at Foresight
- CRN Task Force Progress
- Bragging About Blogging
- A Global Surge Protector?
- Inside CRN, Parts 1-5
- Milestones & Moving Forward
- Feature Essay: Simple Nanofactories vs. Floods of Products
Every month this newsletter gets you up to date on recent events, but to
follow the latest happenings on a daily basis, be sure to check our
Responsible Nanotechnology weblog at http://CRNano.typepad.com/
CRN Goes to Yale
On Wednesday, December 7, CRN Executive Director Mike Treder gave a talk on
"Transforming Society: Ethical Issues in the Nanotech Revolution," at Yale
University's Institute for Social and Policy Studies. The presentation was
addressed to Yale's [Technology and Ethics Working Research Group], an
interdisciplinary affiliation of faculty, students, and community members.
A unique feature of this opportunity was its length. The format allows for
about 90 minutes of lecture and discussion, followed by a brief break for
dinner (delivered to the meeting), and then more informal discussion. With
almost three hours to approach a topic, the presenter and group are able to
explore it in some depth. Still, at the end several people commented that we
had barely scratched the surface of the many serious issues surrounding
New President at Foresight
The Foresight Nanotech Institute has a [new president]. On December 9, Scott
Mize stepped down after one year in the position, and Marc Lurie was
appointed to replace him. Prior to joining Foresight, Lurie founded and as
CEO helmed @hand, a software and services company delivering
mission-critical mobile solutions to large enterprises.
CRN Task Force Progress
Work is proceeding smoothly for the CRN Global Task Force on Implications
and Policy, a [diverse group] of world-class experts brought together to
develop comprehensive recommendations for the safe and responsible use of
Currently, we are completing first drafts on a series of essays that each
identifies a specific concern of a task force member about advanced
nanotechnology. Almost 20 essays have been written so far. When these are
published in anthology form early next year, we will ask for feedback on our
ideas, as well as public input on additional concerns.
Bragging About Blogging
[Technorati] is the equivalent of Google for the blogosphere. Currently
tracking 23.4 million sites and 1.8 billion links, Technorati ranks weblogs
by what they call authority, based on the number of confirmed links from
other blog sites.
According to them, [CRNs Responsible Nanotechnology blog] has more
authority than 99.9% of all the others out there. Of course, there are a lot
of blogs, and many of them are highly esoteric. But it's nice to know that
so many other bloggers have seen the value of referring their readers to our
A Global Surge Protector?
Concentration of power is the topic of Mike Treders most recent Future
Molecular manufacturing represents power: political power, military power,
and economic power. When this power becomes available, will a "global surge
protector" be needed? If so, how might that be devised and implemented?
Who controls that power and how widely -- how democratically -- it is
distributed will make all the difference when nanotechnology is fully
developed. Decisions we make before that time will determine whether our
world becomes safer or more dangerous; more just or less just; more free or
Chances are you have a surge protector in your home to shield electronic
devices from unexpected power surges. Someday soon, we may need protection
from unprecedented surges in global political power.
Read the full essay [here].
Inside CRN, Parts 1-5
In December, we published a [five-part series] on our blog that gave a look
"inside" CRN. The series of short articles reviewed the process CRN follows
in choosing how and what to describe as the likely results of our research
into molecular manufacturing.
Commenting on the series, Jamais Cascio of [WorldChanging.com] said:
CRN looks primarily at the implications of what they term "middle period"
nanotech, such as nanofactories -- much more sophisticated than
nanomaterials, but not the fantastic nanoassemblers of science fiction. I
strongly encourage our readers to check out the recently-concluded "Inside
CRN" series at the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology blog. The five
posts cover CRN's mission and goals, and explain how their focus differs
from other nanotech resources. It's a great introduction to an extremely
Milestones & Moving Forward
As we commemorate our 3rd anniversary this month, we are proud of what weve
accomplished so far, but mindful that greater challenges await us in 2006.
This is important work that few others are doing. To keep moving forward, we
will need to grow fast.
A [new page] on our website lists some of the significant milestones from
CRNs first three years. That page also outlines our current
prioritiesincluding research, outreach, and developmentand suggests
several ways in which you can help advance this work.
Feature Essay: Simple Nanofactories vs. Floods of Products
Chris Phoenix, Director of Research, Center for Responsible Nanotechnology
In [last month's essay], I explained why even the earliest meter-scale
nanofactories will necessarily have a high throughput, manufacturing their
own mass in just a few hours. I also explained how a nanofactory can fasten
together tiny functional blocks nanoblocks to make a meter-scale
product. The next question is what range of products an early nanofactory
would be able to build.
For several reasons, it is important to know the range and functionality of
the products that the nanofactory will produce, and how quickly new products
can be developed. Knowing these factors will help to estimate the economic
value of the nanofactory, as well as its impacts and implications. The
larger the projected value, the more likely it is to be built sooner; the
more powerful an early nanofactory is and the faster new products appear,
the more disruptive it can be.
Because a large nanofactory can be built only by another nanofactory, even
the earliest nanofactories will be able to build other nanofactories. This
means that the working parts of the nanofactory will be available as
components for other product designs. From this reasoning, we can begin to
map the lower bound of nanofactory product capabilities.
This essay is a demonstration of how CRN's thinking and research continue to
evolve. In 2003, I published a peer-reviewed paper called [Design of a
Primitive Nanofactory] in which I described the simplest nanofactory I
could think of. That nanofactory had to do several basic functions, such as
transporting components of various sizes, that implied the need for motors
and mechanical components also in a variety of sizes, as well as several
other functions. However, not long after that paper was published, an even
simpler approach was proposed by John Burch and Eric Drexler. [Their
approach] can build large products without ever having to handle large
components; small blocks are attached rapidly, directly to the product.
The planar assembly approach to building products is more flexible than the
convergent assembly approach, and can use a much more compact nanofactory.
Instead of having to transport and join blocks of various sizes within the
nanofactory, it only needs to transport tiny blocks from their point of
fabrication to the area of the product under construction. (The
Burch/Drexler nanofactory does somewhat more than this, but their version
could be simplified.) This means that the existence of a nanofactory does
not, as I formerly thought, imply the existence of centimeter-scale
machinery. A planar nanofactory can probably be scaled to many square
centimeters without containing any moving parts larger than a micron.
Large moving parts need to slide and rotate, but small moving parts can be
built to flex instead. It is theoretically possible that the simplest
nanofactory may not need much in the way of bearings. Large bearings could
be simulated by suspending the moving surface with numerous small
load-bearing rollers or walkers that could provide both low-friction
motion and power. This might actually be better than a full-contact surface
in some ways; failure of one load-bearing element would not compromise the
Another important question is what kind of computers the nanofactory will be
able to build. Unlike my primitive nanofactory, a simple planar-assembly
nanofactory may not actually need embedded general-purpose computers
(CPU's). It might have few enough different components that the instructions
for building all the components could be fed in several times over during
construction, so that information storage and processing within the
nanofactory might be minimal. But even a planar-assembly nanofactory, as
currently conceived, would probably have to incorporate large amounts of
digital logic (computer-like circuitry) to process the blueprint file and
direct the operations of the nanofactory fabricators. This implies that the
nanofactory's products could contain large numbers of computers. However,
the designs for the computers will not necessarily exist before they are
needed for the products.
Any nanofactory will have to perform mechanical motions, and will need a
power source for those motions. However, that power source may not be
suitable for all products. For example, an early nanofactory might use
chemicals for power. It seems more likely to me that it would use
electricity, because electric motors are simpler than most chemical
processing systems, since chemical systems need to deliver chemicals and
remove waste products, while electrical systems only need wires. In that
case, products could be electrically powered; it should not be difficult to
gang together many nanoscale motors to produce power even for large
The ability to fasten nanoscale blocks to selected locations on a growing
product implies the ability to build programmable structures at a variety of
scales. At the current level of analysis, the existence of a large
nanofactory implies the ability to build other large structures. Because the
nanofactory would not have to be extremely strong, the products might also
not be extremely strong. Further analysis must wait for more information
about the design of the nanofactory.
Sensing is an important part of the functionality of many products. An early
nanofactory might not need many different kinds of sensing, because its
operations would all be planned and commands delivered from outside. One of
the benefits of [mechanosynthesis] of highly cross-linked covalent solids is
that any correctly built structure will have a very precise and predictable
shape, as well as other properties. Sensing would be needed only for the
detection of errors in error-prone operations. It might be as simple as
contact switches that cause operations to be retried if something is not in
the right place. Other types of sensors might have to be invented for the
products they will be used in.
Nanofactories will not need any special appearance, but many products will
need to have useful user interfaces or attractive appearances. This would
require additional R&D beyond what is necessary for the nanofactory.
The planar assembly approach is a major simplification relative to all
previous nanofactory approaches. It may even be possible to build
wet-chemistry nanofactory-like systems, as described in my [NIAC report]
that was completed in spring 2005, and bootstrap incrementally from them to
high-performance nanofactories. Because of this, it seems less certain that
the first large nanofactory will be followed immediately by a flood of
A flood of products still could occur if the additional product
functionality were pre-designed. Although pre-designed systems will
inevitably have bugs that will have to be fixed, rapid prototyping will help
to reduce turnaround time for troubleshooting, and using combinations of
well-characterized small units should reduce the need for major redesign.
For example, given a well-characterized digital logic, it should not be more
difficult to build a CPU than to write a software program of equivalent
complexity except that, traditionally, CPU's have required months to build
each version of the hardware in the semiconductor fab.
An incremental approach to developing molecular manufacturing might start
with a wet-chemical self-assembly system, then perhaps build several
versions of mechanosynthetic systems for increasingly higher performance,
then start to develop products. Such an incremental approach could require
many years before the first general-purpose product design system was
available. On the other hand, a targeted development program probably would
aim at a dry mechanosynthetic system right from the start, perhaps bypassing
some of the wet stages. It would also pre-design product capabilities that
were not needed for the basic nanofactory. By planning from the start to
take advantage of the capabilities of advanced nanofactories, a targeted
approach could develop a general-purpose product design capability
relatively early, which then would lead to a potentially disruptive flood of
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Recent developments in efforts to [roadmap the technical steps] toward
molecular manufacturing make the work of CRN more important than ever.
It is critical that we examine the global implications of this rapidly
emerging technology, and begin creating wise and effective solutions. Thats
why we have formed the CRN Task Force.
But it wont be easy. We need to grow, and rapidly, to meet the expanding
Your donation to CRN will help us to achieve that growth. We rely largely on
individual donations and small grants for our survival.
To make a contribution on-line click this link >
This is important work and we welcome your participation.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The Fine Print:
The Center for Responsible Nanotechnology(TM) is an affiliate of World
Care(R), an international, non-profit, 501(c)(3) organization. All donations
to CRN are handled through World Care. The opinions expressed by CRN do not
necessarily reflect those of World Care.
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