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Nanotechnology: Are Molecular Assemblers Possible?

timothy posted more than 10 years ago | from the anything-you-set-your-mind-to dept.

Biotech 513

Roland Piquepaille writes "Two experts in the field of nanotechnology, K. Eric Drexler, Ph.D., cofounder of the Foresight Institute in Palo Alto, Calif., and the person who coined the term "nanotechnology," and Richard E. Smalley, Ph.D., a professor at Rice University and winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Chemistry, exchanged open letters about "molecular assemblers" -- devices capable of positioning atoms and molecules for precisely defined reactions in almost any environment. These letters are making the -- long -- cover story of the current issue of Chemical & Engineering News. At the end of this rich exchange of four letters, they still disagree about the issue. Drexler thinks "molecular assemblers" are possible while Smalley denies it. Who is right? Don't count on me to give an answer. This summary contains some forceful quotes from the original letters."

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fp (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618034)


I know this is offtopic, but... (-1)

Rectal Examination (711652) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618114)

Can you please visit my website at [] and tell me what you think? Thankyou.

Re:I know this is offtopic, but... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618226)

Your ideas are intriguing and I wish to subscribe to your newsletter. ...

Raises interesting questions (4, Interesting)

Steve 'Rim' Jobs (728708) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618053)

If, in the future, copying physical objects is nearly as easy as copying information on a computer, will corporations lobby to pass laws that make it illegal to do so? In other words, will I be arrested one day for making a copy of my friend's Ferrari?

Re:Raises interesting questions (1)

terrox (555131) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618104)

the assemlber could be copied, everything gets converted into something else more useful to humans
either it is too expensive to copy things, or too slow, or too unreliable, or everyone quickly copies nukes and blows up the world

Re:Raises interesting questions (5, Interesting)

Walterk (124748) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618133)

Ferraris are not IP, so you could copy it freely. However, this would devaluate all Ferraris and would be frowned upon by the company. Ferrari Inc. would then copyright the design of the car and include a license with your friend's Ferrari.

By this time it will not be possible to buy a Ferrari, but only to license a copy. Therefore official Ferrari licenses will be a hot commodity for the wealthy and they will slap licenses on the car windows, the cars however will not become their property.

Of course thieves will see this trend and nab the licenses out of the Ferrari, instead of the car itself, which will be worthless.

Hence you could copy a Ferrari, but what good would it do you, as it wouldn't be yours anyway.

And then I won't be allowed to teleport my Ferrari (0)

Angostura (703910) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618250)


Re:Raises interesting questions (3, Interesting)

markfive (167272) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618257)

So why not just make a copy of the license?

Re:Raises interesting questions (5, Insightful)

BorgDrone (64343) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618280)

Ferrari Inc. would then copyright the design of the car and include a license with your friend's Ferrari.

If you're using a molecular assembler to copy the ferrari, you could use it to copy the license certificate, which would be an exact duplicate so unrecognisable from the original.
Even if they register licensees, you just copy your friends passport (after instructing the assembler to change the photograph) so you can 'prove' you are $FRIEND and you're the legitimate licensee.

However, if molecular assemblers ever become mainstream I'd rather design my own car and let it assemble that. If everyone is driving a Ferrari I'd rather have something different.

Re:Raises interesting questions (2, Funny)

mirko (198274) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618345)

If everyone is driving a Ferrari I'd rather have something different.

Well, had you written "Rolls Royce" instead of "Ferrari", I'd have whinned something like : "if it's perfect, I don't care if it's not unique"... ;-)

Re:Raises interesting questions (1)

Walterk (124748) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618395)

Ferrari would keep a registry with the licensees, along with DNA of the licensee. So in order for it to be legitimate you would have to have the same DNA as your friend, so in order to have a good copy of the license you'd have to have the same DNA, and be the same person.

Instead, why just not rob your friend? And why does he have a Ferrari in the first place? What's with your social circle? Does Ashcroft know? ... Hey, this is /.! We don't have social circles around here! You must be a terrorist!

'this time' is now... (1)

djupedal (584558) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618365)

In my area, many of the car break-in's are targeting vehicle registrations and proofs-of-insurance...the cars themselves are generally of lesser value.

When you can copy a car as easily as a document, the car master (think DVD) will become the target, and that will be the time when copies of vehicles become something to liscense, unless of course, you build your own, like many of us already do today.

Re:Raises interesting questions (1, Insightful)

misterpies (632880) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618136)

You can already be arrested for making a copy of your friend's ferrari -- they've got copyright in the design of the car, after all.

Re:Raises interesting questions (4, Insightful)

Pelorat (174667) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618197)

What a ridiculous assertion. It is most certainly *not* illegal to build any car from parts, or even to make one car look like another.

There is an entire 'kit car' industry, you might want to go have a look at it.

Re:Raises interesting questions (-1)

m1chael (636773) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618146)

by the time that is possible hopefully our sensibility implants have evolved by then.

Re:Raises interesting questions (1)

rbullo (625328) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618159)

At the rate we're going, yes. But at the rate we're going, the country will descend into civil war soon after. Or we'll be sheep and I'll be out of here.

Re:Raises interesting questions (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618164)

If, in the future, copying physical objects is nearly as easy as copying information on a computer ...

This is actually the subject of a Phillip K. Dick [] novel. With the current trend of making his stories into films I suspect this one will be next. link in parent (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618264)

you have been warned.


Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618169)

Read his journal [] . In it, he admits to the following:

He is the former Sir Haxalot [] /Pingular [] , popular for crapfloods and karma-whore posts.

He reposts older highly-moderated comments using the anti-Slash database tool in an effort to boost his own karma.

He must be stopped. Mod him as "overrated" to lower his posts score and deny him precious karma, while preventing the wrath of meta-mod. Thank you, and please spread this message after his posts to let everyone know of the dangers of this man.


Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618315)

I don't think it's working, fag.

--Sir Steve

Re:Raises interesting questions (3, Interesting)

tsmccaff (683906) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618182)

I don't know if current copyright and patent laws can handle these questions. It is legal for me to carve a replica of a wooden chair with a sawblade. Is that substantially different from having a molecular assembler do the job?

Re:Raises interesting questions (2, Interesting)

Space cowboy (13680) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618256)

Especially if you combine P2P with nanotech. Want something ? Just download the "program" from any.where and create it.

Wow, we're already shaking the foundations of some markets (low-to-zero-cost products are not historically very common, but digital assets have essentially zero duplication costs), but so far it's been limited to the digital world. Expect major changes if we can at any time expand that into the physical world...


Re:Raises interesting questions (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618277)

By the time we are able to copy material items, companies would not exist, I think we would be closer to the future portrayed in Star Trek, where money becomes irrelevant.

This is not...the firstest post in the woo-orld! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618058)

NO! This is just a tribute! *dow dow dow dow bagagagabbb*

Lest we forget (4, Interesting)

carl67lp (465321) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618059)

Richard Feynman talked about nanotechnology way back in 1959--before "nanotechnology" was even a word.

It kind of irks me that the person who coins a word gets more credit than a person who talked about the actual process--nearly thirty years prior.

Read Feynman's talk at the Zyvex Web site [] .

Re:Lest we forget (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618117)

Richard Feyman was too busy licking the cum off of random nigger's assholes in the back alley to be proposing anything about nanotechnology. In bother's me when people give give credit THAT HIS GRADUATE ASSISTANTS DID while he was whoring all over town. He is the most overrated "scientist" ever. I fucking hate him, and I hate you by association. He set back higher education and research by years while sitting around and looking for gay sex while all his understudies did all they real work. His fucking contribution was his rubber stamped name. What a fucking asshole he was.

Don't hold it back. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618225)

Please tell me how you really feel, don't hold it back.

Re:Lest we forget (0, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618211)

Richard Feynman talked about nanotechnology way back in 1959

**bzzztt!* Wrong. Feynman was actually talking about nanobiology - the differences between the two are subtle, but distinct [] Yes, he did propose the possible usage of organic materical as "a relay for information" but that is where the similaties end. I can understand how they appear the same on a surface level, but please get your facts straight before spouting.

Re:Lest we forget (3, Informative)

belrick (31159) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618288)

You're the one who doesn't know what he was talking about. He literally described using machine tools to make 1/2-size versions of themselves, then using those ones to make 1/2-size versions of them, and so on. He then argued about the scale down to which you could do that.

Re:Lest we forget (4, Interesting)

kasparov (105041) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618340)

Actually, in the above mentioned Feynman lecture, There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom [] , Feynman talks about making machines that make smaller machines that make smaller machines that make... you get the picture. From the above lecture:
Why can't we manufacture these small computers somewhat like we manufacture the big ones? Why can't we drill holes, cut things, solder things, stamp things out, mold different shapes all at an infinitesimal level? What are the limitations as to how small a thing has to be before you can no longer mold it? How many times when you are working on something frustratingly tiny like your wife's wrist watch, have you said to yourself, ``If I could only train an ant to do this!'' What I would like to suggest is the possibility of training an ant to train a mite to do this. What are the possibilities of small but movable machines? They may or may not be useful, but they surely would be fun to make.
He was not only talking about nanobiology.

Re:Lest we forget (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618406)

Feynman may well have "invented" nanotech but Drexler "innovated" it....
(well at least by current popular language usage)


Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618063)

1775-1783: The British crown presents a bill to American settlers who must now pay for their protection. Ungrateful settlers who are already allergic to taxes go on a rampage and attack tea boxes on a ship; several Americans are wounded in explosions. Americans win their sole victory in Saratoga when general Burgoyne realizes that Canadian merchants sold him ragweed instead of tea before his departure. Facing a mutiny he decides to surrender. In the following years Americans will lose most of their battles due to their lack of discipline and massive desertions. In 1781, 30,000 French soldiers & sailors accept to integrate 11,000 American mascots who will play music from afar while the French win the Battle of Yorktown.
1812: The American army is crushed trying to invade Canada and abandons annexation plans.
During the 19 the century, several raids are led against Indian women and babies with the US troops achieving some victories, but fail in their effort to ethnically cleanse the Indians. Nevertheless, some sucessful slaughters will lead them to believe that they are mighty and couragous warriors.
1861-1865: Americans win an impressive victory against themselves but it took a while. The Civil War as it comes to be called, will turn out to be the only war Americans ever win. Mind you they beat themselves, but why digress.
1898: The Spanish succeed a master coup and get rid of Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Philippines at the expense of the Americans, leaving them the impression that they won the war. Soon the US discovers that there is no oil there, and that their new possessions are a wastebasket, more than anything else.
1900-1950: A series of military interventions against banana republics in South America and the Caribbean against people armed with slingshots and spears has a beneficial effect on the American ego.
1918: The Americans arrive just on time to see the victory of the French and the British against the Germans. They then turn around, and try to claim the high ground by sabotaging the peace treaty and stabbing France in the back when it tries to enforce reparations and prevent Germany from rearming, thus setting the stage for WWII.
1941-1945: While as many as 20 million Russians die bleeding the Wermacht to death, the US wait until the Germans are left with the Hitler Youth, a childrens' force comprised of 14 year old soldiers to launch their assault. They are still saying today that they suffered heavy loses at their hands. In the whole Normandy Campaign they suffer less casualties than the French did in the first six months of 1940, and inflict less damage on the Germans, yet this is enough for them to claim they liberated Europe. That claim alone is the biggest piece of historical myth in history.
1950-1953: The US fails to beat North Korea, in 1953 the borders are still roughly what they were three years earlier.
1963-1973: Americans suffer cruelly from the lack of AC and marijuana of a poor quality in Vietnam. When they realize that their soldiers can be killed in a war they retreat.
1983: The combined aviation, navy and ground troops apply an audacious plan and succeed to beat a bunch of cuban workers armed with shovels in Granada. The celebrations go on for weeks with parades and chants of USA, USA.
1991: Americans align more soldiers than the French or the British combined and succeed in crushing an army of barefoot shiite drafted against their will who are armed with empty rifles and have barely had a thing to eat in months. But even this so-called victory is hollow as it is actually led by the Daguet division from France which leads the charge while American soldiers console themselves by rounding up prisoners that TV crews did not want.

2003: Iraq. Need I go on? I think not.

MOD PARENT UP! (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618138)

+1, Informative!

for future reference (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618263)

why not include some footnotes? this is the internet, after all. links to supporting evidence would make this seem less trolly and much more authoritative.

you really must love america quite a bit. it shows in your writing.

Kurzweil (5, Informative)

Ragelic (466252) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618065)

Also interesting is Ray Kurzweil's comments on the exchange: ar ticles/art0604.html

Re:Kurzweil (1, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618307)

Let's try that again:
here it is []

Well... (2, Insightful)

mirko (198274) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618079)

Even if they are not possible, I suspect by studying a way to make these possible, one may find out something interesting so, let's pretend these are possible...

Yum (5, Funny)

grub (11606) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618082)

How long would it take one of these assemblers to make a cup of "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot"?

Re:Yum (2, Funny)

sznupi (719324) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618122)

or "Bomb, Hydrogen, 20 megatons"

Re:Yum (0, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618239)

Or "Catherine Zeta-Jones, naked, wet."

Re:Yum (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618289)

no no, "Natalie Portman, tied up, hot grits"

Re:Yum (1)

amightywind (691887) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618339)

How long would it take one of these assemblers to make a cup of "Tea, Earl Grey, Hot"?

This is modded as funny but it raises a significant point. The atomic world is not rigid at all scales. Atoms can diffuse, dislocate, etc. Thermal motion and entropy must be considered. How can a deterministic molecular assempler allow for these?

Forceful language indeed (1)

worst_name_ever (633374) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618086)

From the summary:

You don't get it. You are still in a pretend world where atoms go where you want because your computer program directs them to go there. You assume there is a way a robotic manipulator arm can do that in a vacuum, and somehow we will work out a way to have this whole thing actually be able to make another copy of itself.

Wow. If I talked that way to my corporate overlords I'd be kicked to the curb. Maybe I should have been a scientist!

Is Smalley compensating for something? (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618144)

Does the name fit the man, or did the man fit the name?
Seriously, the only better name I've heard of is a dentist named Smiley.

Re:Is Smalley compensating for something? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618347)

The guy who pulled my wisdom teeth was named "Dr. Mangle". True story.

Tinkering with nature (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618090)

I am certainly impressed with the progress made in the nanotechnology field. Our research lab (which is currently located in south Israel) has been making some studies in the same field. We have invited several world-renowned scientiest to work in our lab. While I'm not actively involved in the said research, I'm responsible for the data warehouse that collects the data into a FoxPro cluster.

One published paper presented the idea of creating a 2.4GHz transmitter in a nanobot which would provide a life feed to the chiropractor when he/she is trying to rehabilitate an athlete. We found that western patients were problematic, since the high content of lead in their bodies scrambled the information sent.

The one thing we are doing is sharing our information. We're currently working on a research portal so that fellow scientist can access our data quickly instead of receiving it on ancient 5.25 floppy disks.

Which is nice.

I can see what the problem might be (2, Interesting)

Dunark (621237) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618092)

There is a fundamental obstacle to creating moleular assemblers: What do you make them out of?

Imagine that you were given the task of designing a machine to lay bricks. This probably would not be all that difficult, considering all of the things we already do with robots.
However, the problem becomes much more difficult if I add the stipulation that the machine be constructed entirely from bricks and mortar.

Re:I can see what the problem might be (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618166)

There has already been research into using DNA as machines to build things. They've been able to create DNA 'machines' that could theoretically lead to building the molecular assemblers that will be able to place atoms precisely.

And in fact, molecular assemblers already exist in nature. Ribosomes read DNA and then build protein molecules with more fundamental parts. Another belief is that ribosomes could possibly be used to read customized DNA and build the first real man-made molecular assemblers.

Re:I can see what the problem might be (1)

ArmenTanzarian (210418) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618181)

It also needs to be able to create brick and mortar brick-and-mortar-laying-machines that are microscopic and water based life forms.

Re:I can see what the problem might be (4, Insightful)

hey (83763) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618206)

Try to make a C compiler out of C while you are at it. Oh yeah...Already done!

Re:I can see what the problem might be (5, Insightful)

Zathrus (232140) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618372)

By your logic we don't exist. After all, how could a human have been born without a human to bear it?

But good job on restating the chicken and egg problem in an obscure way.

The first molecular assembler can be built "by hand", just like the first robots were. We've already got the capability to shove around individual atoms (remember IBM spelling out "IBM" with Xenon atoms?), so it's at least theoretically possible (as long as we only need Xenon atoms to build it at least ;) ).

Whats in a name? (1)

MG (85599) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618101)

Molecular assembler? Surely you mean Matter Compiler? Or emcee.

I can't be the only person to have read the Diamond Age.

Re:Whats in a name? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618205)

>I can't be the only person to have read the Diamond Age.

Yes. Yes you are.

Re:Whats in a name? (1)

mnmlst (599134) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618230)

What I want is one of those robotic horses (a chevaline) and a Kevlar duster-type coat. That would make me a Cosmic Cowboy of the Future. Wait, would that make me Cowboy Neal?

Let's not even start talking about the Mouse Army among these rogues on Slashdot... Thousands of teenage Asian girls, oh boy.

I never understood how it was supposed to work. (2, Interesting)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618108)

Ok, so a very very small, cell sized molecular robot will go around, and assembal molecules in a stategic fasion, working toether with other molecular robots.

Each robot would need tons of memory, even if you used the spin of electrons on atoms it would still take a lot of atoms...

But my main question is how would each robot be able to communicate individually with the other robots/controller? Furthermore, if they are so small, how can they control molecules without being pysically effected by them, or even their own envirnment?

Perhaps I just don't understand the concept...

Re:I never understood how it was supposed to work. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618201)

No you don't, most people don't so don't feel bad. What's more bothering is the fact you're modded insightful...

Re:I never understood how it was supposed to work. (1)

liquidpele (663430) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618286)

Ya I know. I've found that if you reply quickly to new articals with something that could maybe make sense, you get mod points. It's pretty funny/sad.

I don't think i'm insightful either, I'm more trying to get someone to tell me off and explain how it could be possible. The artical didn't do much for me (I only skimmed it) since it seemed to be more of a "I can!", "No it can't", "yes it can!", etc...

Re:I never understood how it was supposed to work. (4, Insightful)

NichG (62224) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618242)

Your body does what you've described all the time using DNA as the storage device, and only a two-part complex to do the actual assembly (ribosomes). One problem is, there we're talking about assembling from a fairly well defined set of components which are themselves complex enough to have ways of being selective (an amino acid of a particular geometry will bind preferably to a particular other structure). When you're talking about single atoms, there isn't that much of a geometric factor acting in your benefit anymore. Of course, we even manage that somewhat, since there are particular proteins in our body which end up having a single metal ion of some type or other in the center of them (hemoglobin - iron, chlorophyll - magnesium). The question is, can we generalize this and make it externally controllable (i.e. we feed the DNA-equivalent in by some remote process that preferably doesn't involve changing the environment we're building in).

In the body, communication is usually done diffusing some chemical species that the other cells react to. So perhaps there'd be a byproduct of what one robot is building, and the others would be designed to be able to detect that byproduct to measure the local status. You should be able to build fairly complex uniform structures just knowing the local environment (periodic structures like crystals or networks), but it'd be difficult to build a single highly specified structure unless you used some other control mechanism with good spatial resolution, like in chip manufacture.

Re:I never understood how it was supposed to work. (3, Informative)

clasher (2351) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618319)

Communication and memory may not be as large a requirement as one would think. Like complex action that insects (e.g. ants and termites) are able to perform it may be a case of Self Organization [] (haven't read this FAQ yet but it looks close to what I want to get across.)

For a good book check out The Computational Beauty of Nature [] ). Some tasks can be broken down into very simple repeated actions which simple machines can perform. The beauty of these system is that they require little communication between agents. Merely an awareness of what is around you and a simple list of tasks can create some complecated forms.

Re:I never understood how it was supposed to work. (2, Interesting)

Smiling_Jack (673353) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618364)

Now, I have only a vague understanding of the subject, but from what I read, I was lead to believe that you didn't have one little agent running around like a little gnome (or group thereof) building some complicated structure. You had a sequence of these things which acted like an assembly line. Each agent knows how to slap a specific atom or subset of atoms onto some atomic structure it receives, and only does something when it receives that atomic structure. So there wouldn't really need to be any memory, or very little, since it only does a specific task repeatedly. The thing could almost be stateless.

Again, this is my dim recollection from something I read awhile back, so I bow down before more informed heads.

Assembler (0, Offtopic)

termos (634980) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618121)

The Gnu ASsembler ought to be enough for everyone.

Re:Assembler (0, Offtopic)

BinLadenMyHero (688544) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618304)

Dumb moderators..
I found that funny.

From the article: (5, Funny)

Steve 'Rim' Jobs (728708) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618123)

In lectures and in a September 2001 article in Scientific American, Smalley outlined his scientific objections to the idea of molecular assemblers, specifically what he called the "fat fingers problem" and the "sticky fingers problem."

Aye, this is something that almost all /.ers have had to face at one point or another.


Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618188)

Read his journal [] . In it, he admits to the following:

He is the former Sir Haxalot [] /Pingular [] , popular for crapfloods and karma-whore posts.

He reposts older highly-moderated comments using the anti-Slash database tool in an effort to boost his own karma.

He must be stopped. Mod him as "overrated" to lower his posts score and deny him precious karma, while preventing the wrath of meta-mod. Thank you, and please spread this message after his posts to let everyone know of the dangers of this man.

Not a good idea ! (1)

plinius (714075) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618147)

Hasn't anyone learned from the warnings issued by K Eric Drexler or even Michael Crichton? Will we jump headlong into creating tiny machines with the only aim being making money and doing something "cool"? Technology people are so predictable, maybe what's needed is to station a psychology on every street corner in areas where nanotech is being done and pay them to remind people to have a conscience and grow up a little.

3, 3, 3 replies in 1 (0)

aminorex (141494) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618308)

[ Reply 1, Lusty and irrelevant ]

An organic psychology at that. Or perhaps you
meant psychology major. As you prefer.
Personally, I'd rather a majorette.

[ Reply 2, Recognizes absurd premise, but
utterly fails to provide substantive
refutation ]

Oh yes, psychologists are renowned for their
morality and maturity. Heh.

[ Reply 3, Identifies ideological bias and
rank absurdities, thus cogently defends
subculture ]

Making money is what keeps you from starving
to death, since your hunter-gatherer skills
have been displaced by reading and typing.
Nanotech is cool because it offers the
potential to eliminate hunger and disease.

"... Warnings issued by ... Michael Crichton"
is a quick grin. Should I fear cars and hotels
because of Stephen King?

required reading (3, Informative)

Rxke (644923) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618154)

84-page peer-reviewed white paper on nanofactory. Conclusion: we see no hurdles, predicted time line: 10 years from now we could haave the first operating assembler...

Re:required reading (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618249)

"Grammarnazis puhleezz have mercy with us nonnatives "

Only when you antigrammarnazi morons quit fucking equating the pursuit of accurate and elegant speech with Nazism.

Love and Molecular Assemblers (2, Interesting)

ericspinder (146776) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618161)

I think that I got most of the arguments, but it's hard to take a stand. I especially liked this "counterpoint" quote:
Much like you can't make a boy and a girl fall in love with each other simply by pushing them together, you cannot make precise chemistry occur as desired between two molecular objects with simple mechanical motion along a few degrees of freedom in the assembler-fixed frame of reference. Chemistry, like love, is more subtle than that. You need to guide the reactants down a particular reaction coordinate, and this coordinate treads through a many-dimensional hyperspace.

*sigh* I'm touched.

Also I found it interesting that the usage of Nanotechnology was changed so greatly that the creator of the term accepts the newer phrase 'molecular assemblers' for that process.

Smalley == Nanotechnology (0)

mnmlst (599134) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618162)

With a name like Smalley, I can see why this guy went into nanotechnology. Now I understand why Dr. Karl Maxxum was the chief architect of the Empire State Building;)

It's The Snack Food, Stupid! (3, Funny)

tds67 (670584) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618163)

Drexler thinks "molecular assemblers" are possible while Smalley denies it.

They are possible, and Twinkies(TM) provide the proof. They are manufactured with absolutely no nutritional value whatsoever, and this is only possible if vitamins and minerals are screened out at the molecular level.

Twinkies? (-1, Offtopic)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618302)

The 80's called. They want their reference back.

DNA (2, Interesting)

MindStalker (22827) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618175)

They say its impossible, but isn't DNA essentially just that, and I'm quite sure some lab recently built a transitor from DNA so I'd say its definatly possible.

Re:DNA (1)

sznupi (719324) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618282)

which btw shows, IMHO, pottential risk involved in nanotechnology - DNA can do it, but think of all possible mutations, cancer, etc. - I wonder what would be the result of such "process errors" in case of nanotechnology

Not really. (1)

Thag (8436) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618404)

DNA acts as a template mechanism, which lets you build certain types of molecules using a specific set of operations.

The whole point of nanotech is that it doesn't work like that: you can supposedly add one atom at a time anywhere on a molecule, or pluck an atom out of the middle of something. Which makes the problems much more difficult.

Drexler should get credit for being a populizer of the concept of nanotech, but it's good to see an expert in the field giving him some peer review.

Jon Acheson

Grey goo (1)

Space cowboy (13680) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618183)

Looks like good ole Prince Charles [] can relax for a while yet then...

I find it sort of reassuring that a technology as potentially fantastic (and therefore treated with immense enthusiasm) has to undergo a long period of maturation before people can even agree on the basics...


Well, I read the letters (5, Interesting)

panurge (573432) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618186)

I'm not a nanotechnologist but I have had a fair bit to do with the behavior of atoms on surfaces, especially metals. I think that Smalley seems to have a much closer grasp on the real world than Drexler. The idea of a nanobot twisting a pi-bond here and snapping a sigma-bond there seems quite ludicrous; where such reactions occcur in the real world it is because of the properties of the exact molecules involved and is reaction-specific. You can't just say "well, this works with an iron atom in a hemoglobin molecule, so let's make a different carrier molecule with the same geometry, put it on a robot arm and use it to collect up nickel atoms, or whatever". Biology works because over billions of years a limited group of reactions has been found to work on a limited range of materials, in bulk and in carrier liquids. The notion that this means you can just build little tiny cranes and waggle atoms around does not follow.

From reading the letters I don't think Drexler has really addressed the problems raised by Smalley fingers at all, he just tries to brush the problems aside.

Re:Well, I read the letters (1, Informative)

bradbury (33372) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618363)

Read Chapter 8 of Nanosystems -- "Solution-phase synthesis and mechanosynthesis". I doubt Smalley has. Then go compare Drexler's CV with Smalley's CV. While Princeton is a good school it is *not* MIT. And even if Smalley were smarter than Eric, something I greatly doubt, Smalley would still have to go up against assertions by Feynman (a Nobel prize recipient like Smalley). So on a reputation basis Smalley cannot trump Drexler and Feynman.

With regard to the hemoglobin molecule example this is precisely the problem that Smalley has -- a lack of knowledge. There are at least 3 other examples of a porphyrin ring carrying an atom other than iron known in nature. So it seems perfectly reasonable to structure alternative carriers. Yes, all possible tool tips will not work as expected. But the that does not mean that all possible tool tips will fail as well. The notion that mechanosynthesis will not work seems to contradict current chemical methods where chemical reactions occur by random interactions between atoms/molecules. If these aren't random mechanical interactions then I must misunderstand chemistry.

Stop slashdotting nanotech sites (-1, Flamebait)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618191)

There is no real nanotech news and won't be for another few decades, so give it a fucking rest. I don't see any articles chronicling debates about holography or lasers, even though two high profile ones on both subjects have recently occured. Why? Because those are boring.

The only appeal to these nanotech articles is the idea that nanotechnology is Clarkeian magic, as with Drexler's assemblers.

Well, technology isn't "sufficiently advanced" yet. High-level interdisciplinary scientists might be able to make reasonable comments, but your average slashdot reader? Give me a break. The comments this will generate will all be utterly useless and uninformative, including this one. The technology isn't even in its infancy, it's in an embryonic phase.

Stop posting nanotech articles and killing the sites I visit for absolutely no utility or effect (other than reinforcing the general idea that nanotech could be magic).

And you can stop posting mars or moon colonizing articles while you're at it. And cryonic revivification. Get back to news grounded in reality and away from 30 year speculation, please. It benefits nobody, kills interesting sites with traffic bombs and only generates idle chatter from wannabe experts and sci-fi fans. There are tons of scientific advancements that have been made that will have a REAL effect on US in the PRESENT TIME that are being ignored in favor of this sort of daydreaming.

Re:Stop slashdotting nanotech sites (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618281)

yea, your comment resembles that of the comments about first powered flight experiments...

Scaring children - classic quote from Smalley (5, Funny)

fruey (563914) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618195)

Leading up to my visit, the students were asked to write an essay on "Why I Am a Nanogeek." Hundreds responded, and I had the privilege of reading the top 30 essays, picking my favorite five. Of the essays I read, nearly half assumed that self-replicating nanobots were possible, and most were deeply worried about what would happen in their future as these nanobots spread around the world. [...]
You and people around you have scared our children. (emphasis mine)

So there, Smalley wins, he got scared children into the debate. Only thing likely to win debates better are beautiful women's tears, knockout punches, and defaulting by just leaving the room in a huff.

Re:Scaring children - classic quote from Smalley (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618275)

Think of the children!.... with crosshairs on their dopey little foreheads.

Never say never (3, Insightful)

BillFarber (641417) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618196)

No matter how unlikely it seems, I think you have to be very careful saying something is impossible. Especially something that we are only just starting to explore - such as nanotech.

Possibilities... (1)

dreamchaser (49529) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618215)

To paraphrase a saying that I cannot for the life of me find the author of (it was a Sci Fi author, please one of you MUST remember who said it): If a graybeard scientist says something is possible, pay attention to him. If that same graybeard scientist says something is impossible, he's wrong.

Yesterday's crazy idea... (1)

Unknown Kadath (685094) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618218) tomorrow's rock-solid reality. Prominent scientists once thought supersonic flight was impossible, too, but tell that to Chuck Yeager. Hell, my job involves building a jet engine that has a cruising speed faster than Mach 1.

Applied science is a big mountain, and we're still mucking about in the foothills.


molecular assembly + quantum computers... (1)

karmaflux (148909) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618219)

This could be the start of something beautiful.

Compare this [] with that [] .

But this issue seems to be fraught with misunderstanding [] .

These discussions are almost irrelevant ... (3, Insightful)

dustpuppy (5260) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618231)

since they discuss developments 'in the future'.

As Dexter quotes Smalley:
... when a scientist says something is possible, they're probably underestimating how long it will take. But if they say it's impossible, they're probably wrong.

Molecular assemblers are not currently possible so we're not discussing 'now'. As for the future, well anything is possible. Look back through history and I don't think anyone can seriously say that anything is impossible given a long enough timespan - given enough research and progress and time, humans will probably find ways to overcome any physical, chemical, biological etc limit.

So if the future is certain, then all these discussions are about is when. Given the lack of developments in the nanotech area, i doubt anyone can give an accurate timeline as more research/developments is required.

Therefore the whole discussion seems like a pissing contest since neither side can really provide any solid info to predict when their predications will become true.

Re:These discussions are almost irrelevant ... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7618368)

Pigs still don't fly.

K. Eric Drexler ? (-1, Troll)

Yvan256 (722131) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618236)

I predict a new cartoon called "Drexler's Lab"...

If I had to bet (5, Insightful)

MarkusQ (450076) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618237)

If I had to bet, I'd say that Drexler was right. Smalley seems to rely on strawman arguments (they'd be restricted to water) and arguments from incredulity (the fat fingers schtick). This is the same sort of plausible sounding arguments that have been used to "prove" (in my lifetime) that we will never detect planets around other stars, that we will never be able to image individual atoms, that I will never have a hi-res colour display on my desk, that we will never be able to clone a mammal, etc., etc.

If you strip away the fancy words (and shamelessly simplify), this becomes much more obvious:

Drexler: We can build structures with atoms exactly where we want them, within reasonable limits.

Smalley:Your fingers are too big. Any robot you build will have fingers too big. It won't work.

Drexler: We wouldn't use "fingers," we'd use molecules designed for the purpose.

Smalley: I don't see how that could work.

Drexler: Living cells do it all the time.

Smalley: Ah, but they need water to do it. Your nano-things will only work in water.

And so forth...

Drexler may well be optimistic about the timeline, and may well be underestimating the difficulties, but I've yet to see an argument that it can't be done that holds up under critical examination.

-- MarkusQ

Yes they are possible (4, Insightful)

Ignorant Aardvark (632408) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618260)

Yes, they are possible. Look at what living cells already do ... every single one of them. They convert raw materials into cell structures. We already know it's possible; we just need to figure it out how to do it our way, or copy the way the cells do it.

Cells do it (2, Interesting)

rlp (11898) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618267)

Ribosomes are essentially molecular assemblers that build proteins out of amino acids using instructions from messenger RNA (originally transcribed from the DNA in the nucleus). So, it's not only possible, your cells are doing it as you read this.

I'm pretty sure they ARE possible (1)

Blenderkitty (622104) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618291)

After all, what is the human body, but a set of carefully-constructed chemicals?
What is a protein? Not a random conglomeration of molecules, but the last step in a long chain of directed chemical synthesis.

I think the naysayers are being too close-minded in their consideration of what a molecular assembler may look like.

Molecular Assemblers are OK, but (1)

big-giant-head (148077) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618293)

Please no Molecular Cobol or Fortan compilers......

It must be possible... (1)

twoslice (457793) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618298)

K. Eric Drexler, Ph.D., cofounder of the Foresight Institute in Palo Alto, Calif.

A Ph.D. who is a co-founder of Foresight.... can't be wrong...

Clarke's first law (1, Insightful)

alanxyzzy (666696) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618313)

If an elderly but distinguished scientist says that something is possible he is almost certainly right,
but if he says that it is impossible he is very probably wrong.'
Arthur C. Clarke

I'd love to read this article... (2)

Masque (20587) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618314)

...but I'm really not skilled in reading molecular assembly language.

Atom Level Manipulation (2, Informative)

zhiwenchong (155773) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618321)

Take a look at this:
Here []

From the article:
"an atomic manipulation facility, unique in the world. This atomic manipulation facility will enable a new generation of experiments to unfold. It will allow McGill researchers to construct new devices atom by atom, thus developing the science and technology required for future electronic and biochemical systems."

See? (0)

TheOoftheP (726034) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618377)

Who says open source developers are the only group that have flame wars instead of working?

The real question (1)

hexatron (683320) | more than 10 years ago | (#7618390)

The real question is: Where should research effort be put?
Drexler has been pushing his simple-to-understand vision for some decades. Even a congressman can understand "We stick the atoms together to make the molecules by pushing them into place, just like we make tinkertoy stuff." It's a nice idea. But there is no known way to do it. And real chemists know that atoms are way too small and way too sticky and way too jumpy to be dealt with like bricks. It may not be impossible. But it is impossible right now, and bellowing about how nice it would be is just--bellowing.

Meanwhile, plain old chemical reactions have kept you alive all your life. Your parents too. They do lots of impressive things--like make beer. Have one.
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