Studying molecular manufacturing
Technology and Society Magazine, IEEE
Vol. 23, Num. 4
Phoenix writes, "This paper provides a definition for a particular type of nanotechnological capability, 'molecular manufacturing'. This definition is intended to encompass and ground much of the speculation about the ultimate capabilities of nanotechnology, while also being applicable to more mundane and near-term manufacturing-related nanotechnologies. The definition distinguishes simple nanoscale technologies that do not develop manufacturing systems from the more advanced nanotechnologies that do."
To begin, molecular manufacturing is any technology that implements (1) digital operations, (2) nanoscale construction, (3) self-manufacture, (4) programmable properties, and (5) low error rates. Phoenix pairs this definition with examples drawn from present-day technologies to illustrate each of five necessary components. Next, Phoenix analyzes two technologies in terms of the definition: nucleic acid engineering, and carbon lattice mechanosynthesis.
Finally, Phoenix raises several questions that can be asked about any molecular manufacturing technology preparatory to estimating its impact and value: as explored briefly for each technology, several factors limit the areas where a manufacturing technology might compete with or replace existing technologies. The questions are as follows: How comprehensive is the self-manufacturing step? What materials are produced? What range of products is produced? How easily does this integrate with other technologies? How powerful are the applicable design tools? Ultimately, Phoenix intends to give speculation about the the possibilities of nanotechnology a grounding and also provide tools for assessment of near-term manufacturing-related nanotechnologies. "The definition and examples presented here should clarify these debates, shifting discussion from the feasibility of an abstract and poorly defined concept to the impact of any of several candidate technologies."