This generation will witness the greatest technological breakthrough in human history, the development of molecular manufacturing and personal nanofactories. Molecular manufacturing (MM) describes a process that builds complicated machines out of precisely designed molecules. This emerging technology allows us to guide the molecular assembly of objects by mechanically positioning reactive molecules.
This new manufacturing process, sometimes referred to as molecular nanotechnology (MNT), should not be confused with “structural nanotechnology” which refers to the present-day and near-future incorporation of nano-scale elements in modern industrial products. Nano-scale components are already present in many products, such as fabrics, electronics, and pharmaceuticals.
But molecular manufacturing harbors far greater abilities. Promising to deliver a monumental effect on human society, molecular manufacturing will give you us the means to manufacture products in the bottom up and enable us to rearrange matter with atomic precision. Once molecular manufacturing is developed, it’ll provide us with a thorough and cheap system for manipulating the structure of matter. In a relatively small amount of time period following the development of the first nanofactory, mankind can look to have complete dominion over the physical universe.
How Molecular Manufacturing Works
The central, but not the only, component necessary to achieve molecular manufacturing is a fabricator, or assembler. A fabricator will be nano-scale device able to precisely positioning molecules. Using current computer technology, we could then direct fabricators to secure and position compounds at the precise locations where chemical reactions occur. Using this method, a network of fabricators working in tandem (such as a nanofactory) can construct atomically perfect objects associated with a size by initiating multiple sequences of controlled chemical reactions.
A simplified way to visualize this idea is to think of a fabricator as an atomic magnet in a position to attract and repel molecules.
How Molecular Manufacturing May be Developed
Molecular manufacturing will most likely be developed underneath the auspices of a massive governmental defense work for a significant world power. Likely candidates would be the United States, the European Union, Japan, India, Israel, or China – although most nations in the world community have developed limited nanotechnology initiatives. In all likelihood, the events of September 11th provided the necessary incentive for the United States (and other world powers) to undertake organized and concerted efforts to accelerate the development of molecular manufacturing. Given the enormous benefits, as well as the unacceptable national security consequences of losing this new arms race for an unfriendly power, it appears most capable nations have instituted such projects and are fervently racing toward the construction of the world’s first self-contained molecular manufacturing system.
Just as December 7th ushered the planet into the Nuclear Age, September 11th will catapult us in to the Nanotech Age. This gives ample reason to be concerned, because this might well lead to the premature development of molecular manufacturing, unleashing enormous power on a global unprepared.
Why Molecular Manufacturing Will Be Developed
National security concerns will constitute the initial driving force to develop molecular manufacturing and get to the assembler breakthrough as soon as possible. As Eric Drexler states in Chapter 11 (“Engines of Destruction”) of Engines of Creation, “a state that makes the assembler breakthrough could rapidly create a decisive military force – if not literally overnight, then at least with unprecedented speed.” In a position to replicate swiftly, assemblers can become abundant in a very short time (when the self-replication period for an assembler is 15 minutes, then a single assembler can replicate into two to the ninety-fifth power assemblers in the first 24 hour period). Those assemblers can then be used to create weapons pre-designed in anticipation of the future growth and development of molecular manufacturing, weapons able to enormous destructive power – weapons that most people would find difficult to imagine. The leading force will hold unprecedented control of the nations of the earth. How it chooses to exercise that power should be humanity’s greatest concern.
In addition to its national security implications, molecular manufacturing promises to change every aspect of human life. Molecular manufacturing will also yield the following:
1) A cleaner environment
2) A reversal within the aging process
3) The eradication of disease
4) The elimination of poverty
5) Safer, inexpensive space travel
6) Acceleration in the development of advanced Artificial Intelligence
These changes will not occur in a vacuum. Literally overnight, the world political, social, and economic order is going to be thrown right into a transition period marked by great upheaval. Coping with the unintended consequences of molecular manufacturing, creating an immune system to safeguard ourselves from perceived threats, and establishing a completely new international order that protects the sovereignty of free states and also the liberties of free people will culminate in humanity’s greatest challenge. Many reasons exist to develop molecular manufacturing, but foremost among them is the idea that a totalitarian government could develop it first and choose these great questions for all of us. Winning this new arms race must be the number one priority of the Western Democracies, because to lose might mean that free nations cease to exist.
The Dangers of Molecular Manufacturing
We must stay sharp and vigilant to a number of potential dangers once we develop molecular manufacturing. One of the more commonly perpetuated concerns is the danger of the massive accident that may reduce the biosphere to “gray goo”. Many inside the field of nanotechnology have expressed concern that the lab may accidentally set loose a runaway replicator in the environment. Using the earth’s biomass as a ready-made supply of components, such a device could uncontrollably self-replicate around the world just like a mutant form of crabgrass, turning the planet into a sphere of “gray goo”. However, engineering such a replicator (if it’s even possible) is going to be quite difficult, and it is highly unlikely to be caused by any sort of accident. This kind of accident is more prone to arise from the escape of a replicator consciously built for this type of purpose. Such a replicator, in a controlled state, is really a new class of weapons of mass destruction. And also the construction of such weapons raises speculation of the more severe concern than mere accidents which is the threat of the deliberate abuse.
The most serious danger to arise in the growth and development of molecular manufacturing will be deliberate abuse, abuse that may spring forth from many areas of society simultaneously. Our initial pressing concern will be the prospect of despotic governments or terrorist organizations possessing an unrestricted molecular manufacturing capability. This will remain a threat, but probably one with which we can deal. Despotic governments, such as communist China or the theocracy of Iran, could be quickly defeated (if we develop molecular manufacturing first) by the Western Democracies without demise on either side of the conflict and also at little financial cost once molecular manufacturing involves fruition. Advanced nanotechnologies will also provide us with new tools for tracking and capturing individual terrorists, and the defeat of state sponsors of terror will remove the effective safe havens terrorist groups rely upon for protection.