Nanotechnology: From Feynman to Funding
Drexler, K. Eric
Bulletin of Science, Technology and Society
Vol. 24, Num. 1
Drexler argues that the Feynman vision of "nanomachines able to build nanomachines and other produces with atom-by-atom control," is and should remain central to nanotechnology research. His and Feynmans' vision persuaded the US government to fund nanotechnology, and in so doing, began a global nanotechnology race. Now, however, nanotechnology is used and defined as any kind of technology with one dimension occuring at the nanoscale. "This expansive, scale-defined nanotechnology includes what had been termed thin films, fine fibers, colloidal particles, large molecules, fine-grained materials, submicron lithography, and so on." To refute the fears raised by Bill Joy and Michael Crichton, Richard Smalley and others have rejected nanoreplicators or declared them a technological impossibility. Drexler defends them: "In assembler-based chemistry, nanomachines will bring molecules together to react only when and where they are wanted. Compared to biological chemistry, this strong control will enable assemblers to build structures of both greater complexity and generality. In organic, biological, and assembler-based chemistry, the fundamental chemical processes are similar." These reactions can occur as they do in nature; in this scenario they are simply guided." Drexler argues that failing to fund controlled processes such as these allows other countries to get an edge over the United States. He concludes, " Continued attempts to calm public fears by denying the feasibility of molecular manufacturing and nanoreplicators would inevitably fail, thereby placing the entire field calling itself nanotechnology at risk of a destructive backlash. A better course would be to showthat these developments are manageable and still distant. Current research is, in fact, of lowrisk, and the economic, environmental, medical, and military arguments for continued vigorous pursuit of nanotechnologies are strong. In an open discussion, I believe that these arguments will prevail. It is time for the nanotechnology community to reclaim the Feynman vision in its grand and unsettling entirety."