Something written sometime back by someone:
If you are not keen on technological revolutions of unparalleled magnitude, you will not find the future agreeable. Nanotechnology is coming, and it will be a social and technological revolution exceeding in significance any before it, including the Neolithic and Industrial Revolutions. Any attempts to catalog the full range of changes nanotechnology will bring would fall hopelessly short; the future never stands up to exacting prediction. This paper attempts to address one of the most fundamental of social changes nanotechnology will bring.
Nanotechnology will eliminate all things economic. This change will come soon after the creation of the anything box, a device which will allow anyone to produce anything with freely available resources, designs, and energy. The system of exchange developed over thousands of years of uneven distribution of resources and knowledge will disappear when everyone is given equal access to everything.
To the uninitiated, nanotechnology may appear to be nothing more than science fiction or alchemy. No doubt space travel would have sounded as unbelievable at the turn of the last century, when neither airplanes nor automobiles had impressed themselves upon the world. Nanotechnology does not violate or even challenge any currently understood scientific laws, but it does challenge our understanding of the potential capabilities of science, and this is what leads so many to feel that nanotechnology is nothing but science fiction. Nanotechnology is undeniably theoretical at the present time, but as fantastic as some of its projections may sound, it is still a science based upon the accepted interpretations of physical laws. Current research cannot prove that all the nanoscientists' projections are achievable or, for that matter, unachievable. Future research could, of course, uncover previously unknown laws, or previously unknown aspects of current laws, which would limit or deny nanotechnology. However, there is an ever increasing body of scientists and an ever increasing body of research, and neither has discovered any laws which would make nanotechnology unattainable.
Introduction to Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology is the science of building structures (including cars, food, houses, and space ships) by the manipulation and placement of individual atoms and molecules. No longer will the "bulk" processes of current manufacturing and chemistry, which are only been able to manipulate atoms and molecules in large numbers, limit our scientists and engineers. Nanotechnology is not merely miniaturization carried to its ultimate limit, it is an entirely new way of ordering matter.
Nanotechnology will bring the development of nanomachines, machines with dimensions measured in nanometers; among these nanomachines will be assemblers, nanoscale robots capable of assembling anything, including duplicates of themselves, by atom/molecule manipulation, and matter probes, nanoscale robots able to record the design of and/or disassemble any structure.
Nanotechnology's claims are absolutely outrageous, and this quite reasonably excites skepticism in even the most open of minds. Skepticism is being eroded, however, as the body of supporting technical explanations, based upon established engineering, chemistry, and math, grows. Make no mistake, nanotechnology is almost entirely theoretical at this point. A great deal of current research, however, will directly aid its development, and much that will indirectly aid it, but as of yet, there are no assemblers, there are no matter probes. Nevertheless, the handwriting is on the wall; if not the handwriting on the wall, then at least the logo of IBM written on a nickel surface in 35 Xenon atoms. Nanotechnology is theoretical in the same sense that the space program was theoretical until Sputnik. Nanotechnology is working toward but has not reached a goal which seems by all known physical and chemical laws to be fully achievable. Nanotechnology is not an attempt to violate, circumvent, or redefine any laws of physics, chemistry, or biology; nanotechnology is the direct result of taking these laws at face value, and taking them to their limit.
The principles of physics, as far as I can see, do not speak against the possibility of maneuvering things atom by atom. It is not an attempt to violate any laws; it is something, in principle, that can be done; but in practice, it has not been done because we are too big.
Richard P. Feyman (1918-1988), U.S. scientist, professor, forefather of nanotechnology. There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom, talk at the annual meeting of the American Physical Society (1959).
It could even be said that nanotechnology has already been mastered and proven, but thus far by nature only in such organic structures as the ribosome (the natural assembler of proteins, which it makes from amino acids, according to instructions coded into the RNA it processes).
Nature is a self-made machine, more perfectly automated than any automated machine. To create something in the image of nature is to create a machine, and it was by learning the inner working of nature that man became a builder of machines.
Eric Hoffer (1902-1983), U.S. philosopher. Reflections on the Human Condition, aph. 6 (1973).
Nanotechnology is not perfect. Powerful new technologies can bring powerful new dangers, and nanotechnology will be no exception; the dangers may not be able to be entirely avoided, but their potential for harm can be greatly reduced if prepared for. Regardless of the dangers, nanotechnology is coming.
Nanomachine (also known as "Nanite")
Nanotechnology is the science of construction by individual manipulation and placement of atoms and molecules. The greatest obstacle to this approach to construction is the large volume of atoms and molecules which must be individually handled in building even the smallest of functional structures. Nanomachines will be the tools which allow the work to be done efficiently. Nanomachines are the heart of nanotechnology.
In the broadest sense, a nanomachine is any machine whose operation requires that it be manufactured to atomic specifications and whose size is measured in nanometers; this broad definition includes nanocomputers, assemblers, and matter probes. It is not uncommon, however, to see the term "nanomachine" used in such a way that implies only assemblers and matter probes.
An assembler is a nanomachine capable of assembling objects by the positioning, addition, and removal of individual atoms and/or molecules.
While assemblers may sound like science fiction, they are instead science fact, and have been for billions of years; nature relies on nanomachines such as the ribosome. The ribosome is, fundamentally, an assembler; it assembles enzymes from instructions coded in the ribonucleic acid (RNA) it processes. Scientists need not wonder if assemblers are possible, only how they can learn to emulate and build upon the brilliance of nature.
The "assembler" is a general class of nanomachine. Assemblers can be universal assemblers (non-limited) or limited assemblers. Assemblers can be self-replicating or non-self-replicating. And, while the term assembler is most commonly used to describe nanomachines whose purpose is construction, it should be noted that these assemblers will be just as skilled at disassembling (see also Matter Probes). This ability to break complex structures down to their constituent atoms or molecules (depending upon the need of the user) will allow the ultimate level of recycling and raw material harvesting.
While it would be possible to build a structure with a single assembler, it would not be practical (unless the structure was of a size measured in nanometers). Current predictions suggest that assembly speeds of one million molecular/atomic manipulations per second would be feasible in early assemblers. This sounds impressive until one considers that there are 5x1025 atoms in a kilogram of carbon. Assuming that only one molecular manipulation needed to be performed on each atom in the carbon sample, and that all manipulations could be made at the 1x106 manipulations/second rate, this means that a 1 kilogram carbon structure built by a single assembler would take 5x1019 seconds or 1.6x1012 years. Obviously, assemblers must build structures in working collectives.
The easiest way to create the assemblers necessary (a number which is dependent on the structure and the assembler work speed) would be to give these nanomachines the ability to self-replicate; nature's nanomachines use this method. When not needed, the number of assemblers would be kept low. Once assemblers were issued work, each could create two nanomachines, then begin their work; each newly constructed assembler would also create two nanomachines before beginning to work. In this manner, assemblers would have the power of exponential growth (an alternative would be to have all assemblers self-replicating until the population threshold is reached and then all would begin working). The reproduction would terminate when some threshold was reached, such as when the availability of a resource of energy went below some critical level. There are potential dangers in this approach, known as "grey goo" and "red goo" problems. Grey goo is the accidental and uncontrolled self-replication of assemblers, red goo is the intentional and uncontrolled self-replication of assemblers (nanoterrorism).
Self-replication is not the only solution to assembler creation, but it is the most robust. One alternative would involve the separate production of assemblers. In this scenario, non-self-replicating assemblers would be produced within assembler factories, and then distributed to individuals/companies. In this way, the total number of assemblers in circulation could be controlled by the assembler suppliers. The primary thinking behind this sort of approach would be to attempt to reduce the dangers of assemblers by controlling their numbers.
One of the fears voiced most often with regard to nanomachines relates to the potential damage they could do if used by the wrong people; nanomachines which could be used to assemble absolutely anything would certainly be a huge liability in a world still inhabited by people willing and eager to kill each other over issues of money, land, politics, and religion. One solution to this problem would be to create limited assemblers, assemblers which are limited to the assembling of one specific product or one category of product. These could themselves be made by non-limited assemblers.
It is difficult to say how successful the effort of limiting assemblers would be. One area in which to look to get some understanding of the difficulties involved would be computer networking and operating system security. Directing the assemblers will be internal nanocomputers. If assemblers are to be limited, it will be within these nanocomputers that the limiting will occur. It may be easy to limit an assembler to the production of a single structure, such as a specific make, model, and year of car. It will not be as easy to limit assemblers to the production of certain classes of item, such as food. In such cases, the assembler will need to accept design specifications (recipes) from an outside source, presumably some form of computer. It would likely be the job of this computer to determine whether or not this design specification describes a structure which the assembler is allowed to construct. If the design specification is found to not be in violation of the assembler's limitation, the external computer would pass the data on to the assembler with some sort of authorization. This is just one example of how such a scheme could work. In this case, the primary danger would be that authorizations could almost certainly be faked.
Limited assemblers may only delay access to non-limited assemblers, just as a dead-bolt on a front door can only delay the entry of a determined burglar. (For a further discussion on the possible conversion of limited assemblers to universal assemblers, see the Anything Boxes for Everyone section under Economic Implications of Nanotechnology.)
A matter probe is a nanomachine (self-replicating or not) able to move itself through any given structure, recording all aspects of the structure's atomic/molecular construction, and (if desired) disassembling the structure in the process. Assemblers will almost certainly be able to act as matter probes. Since the specific role of "assembler" is very different from that of "matter probe", they will be treated here as if they were separate nanomachines.
In the probing of large objects it would certainly be advantageous to utilize many matter probes; as discussed in regard to assemblers, self-replication would often be the best method of achieving this. Data collected by the many probes could then be stored in a central nanocomputing machine which would collect the data from all matter probes and to which each would report. This information, which fully describes the structure, is its design description.
Design descriptions are "streamable", that is each can be stored as a sequence of data (in current computing, this would be in the form of "0"s and "1"s). These sequences of data can be stored as computer files are, and could therefore be saved, copied, exchanged with other humans, or supplied to assemblers. It must be noted that the design specifications cannot be a brute recording of the type and position of each atom in the entire object (as is the method used by CAD packages). The brute recorded data, no matter on what media it was stored, would be larger than the object. Instead, the design specifications must employ schemes for describing structures compactly; current computer software compression algorithms may be a useful conceptual starting point in this pursuit. Nature does an excellent job of briefly describing complex structures, this is demonstrated by the compact size of DNA versus the size of the structure it describes.
The ability of a matter probe to disassemble the structure it scans plays an important role in some proposed matter probe applications. One proposed application is for the creation of matter facsimile machines ("matterfax"), devices capable of sending objects by way of laser/radio/network communication. Matter probes would be used to disassemble the object to be sent, while creating a design specification for the object. The design specification would then be transmitted by radio/laser/network to its destination where universal assemblers would build an object identical to the original.
Nanotechnology, as stated earlier, is still largely theoretical. No research team has produced an assembler, nor will any for many years. Nanotechnology is not a serendipitous science; its goals will only be met by determined and directed work. Many difficulties presently face the nanotech researcher, chief among them is the difficulty in securing research funds; research sponsors are less and less inclined to involve themselves in long-term research programs, which is exactly the kind of support nanotechnology researchers need since nanotechnology is not going to have manufacturing/medical applications (and therein profitability) for some time. Despite its slight funding and few researchers, nanotechnology is making significant advances.
Nanotechnology is being approached from two diametrically opposed scientific directions; the general approaches are commonly referred to as top-down and bottom-up. The approaches are complementary in that the knowledge gained from one approach does not often duplicate the knowledge gained in the other approach. The approaches are different and will have different timetables, but when nanotechnology has finally built its assemblers, it will be the product of the knowledge gained in both approaches.
The top-down mode is so named because its path to the creation of nanomachines begins with the current technology of bulk structures, structures built by the manipulations of millions/billions of atoms/molecules at a time, and moves toward nanotechnology by building smaller and smaller machines. Current nanotechnology research being done in the top-down mode focuses most strongly on protein engineering; other research being done which will have significant impact on nanotechnology include piezochemistry, an area of science which focuses on the creation/manipulation of very reactive (willing to form a bond) sites on molecular structures, such that molecules can be "snapped" together like Legosä.
Protein engineering is the science of understanding and trying to apply a growing body of knowledge on the building of proteins from their component amino acids. Since proteins are created by the individual manipulation of molecules, a job requirement of nanotechnology's assemblers, there is much to learn by close study of protein formation.
The top-down approach promises to bring more immediate accomplishments and rewards than does the bottom-up approach. The explanation of this stems largely from the fact that the top-down approach is not a radical departure from the direction of current technology (especially biotechnology) but a continuation of it; many of its tools and much of its knowledge has already been developed and need only be applied in new ways.
Of all the sciences striving to create the first nanomachine, protein engineering may be closest to that goal, for already these machines exist in nature in a magnificent diversity of form and function. However, in understanding this vast array, the biologist's dilemma is one of discovering the shape of puzzle pieces from the completed picture. For while other methods attempt to create nanomachines atom by atom, biologists must wade through several billion years of redundancy, obsolescence, and innovation to discover their keys to construction. But with both the increasing computer power for modeling and knowledge on how proteins fold, that goal might not be far off at all.
Niles Donegan, "Understanding Nature's Machines", Cornell's SciTech Web Site (http://www.englib.cornell.edu/Scitech/s95/prot.html
Nanotechnology research in the bottom-up mode focuses by definition on mechanosynthesis, the use of molecules and atoms as the building blocks in the manufacturing of structures. No nanoengineer/nanoscientist has yet managed to do anything but nudge atoms around on a surface, no 3-D structures have been built atom by atom. The atomic manipulations performed so far have been done with STMs (scanning tunneling microscope) and AFMs (atomic force microscope), neither of which are capable, in their current form, of doing anything but push or pull atoms across a 2-D surface. No functional structures have yet been made atom by atom by the nanoengineer/nanoscientist; achievements thus far have been limited to atomic graffiti, starting with the 35 Xenon atom writing of "IBM" on a nickel plate and continuing at various companies and universities since. While not atom-by-atom construction, spectacular achievements have been made in the area of building complex 3-D structures using synthetic DNA. Dr. Nadrian Seeman of NYU received the 1995 Feynman Prize in Nanotechnology for his work in this area, including the construction of cubes and more complex polyhedra. These synthetic DNA structures "could serve as building blocks for new and highly resilient materials made of DNA frameworks, to which other functional molecules could then be attached."
Economic Implications of Nanotechnology
Imagine for a moment that every human had an "anything box", a device which would allow them to produce absolutely anything at the touch of a few buttons. Its operator could select from an already compiled list of objects that would include food, cars, computers, and homes or he/she could provide it with design specifications for any additional objects he/she might wish this device to build; these additional design specifications could be gotten for free off of the FutureNet. The device would draw its power from freely and readily available energy, such as sunlight. The device would build from free and readily available raw materials, the raw materials being atoms and molecules. The device could produce anything for anyone free. Try now to imagine anything economic existing in such a world. What products or services would companies offer? Why would their workers work? Who would buy their products or services? What would governments trade if all resources were freely and plentifully available within each country? What economic plans could governments form? What would money buy? The economic system of nations, businesses, and people would be eliminated because economics would no longer apply.
Having identified the destination, and some of the most critical way-points to the destination, it is still left to show that each way-point could and would be reached.
The way-points are:
* Everyone must have anything boxes.
* Everyone must have free and ready access to the design specifications describing all desired objects.
* Everyone must have free and ready access to the raw materials required by anything boxes.
* Everyone must have free and ready access to the energy required by anything boxes.
* When the destination is reached-a universe in which all humans have free and ready access to all things-it will be shown that there would be no value in exchanges.
An anything box, as stated earlier, is a device which can build anything at the touch of a few buttons. An anything box can build from previously stored design specifications or it can be supplied with and store new design specifications. The anything box would be one of the simplest and most robust applications of nanotechnology's universal assemblers; an anything box would simply be a collection of universal assemblers and a computer with user interface for storing and retrieving design specifications and issuing jobs to the universal assemblers. Anything boxes could be conveniently small until they are required to begin work, at which point they could grow to enclose the object of any size being assembled, and thus provide whatever environment was required by the assemblers; upon job completion, the assemblers could return the anything box to its original size, disassembling it in such a way that it exposed the assembled product.
Anything Boxes for Everyone
The anything box is simply the robust application of the universal assembler. The creation of the universal assembler is thus the development of the anything box. The availability of the anything box is the availability of the assembler.
Assemblers will not be in everyone's possession immediately after they are developed, but it will not take long. The first wave of assemblers will be limited by their newness, the next wave by limitations purposefully placed into their design to restrict their use, the third wave will be limitless and freely available.
Assemblers will be developed in a world still fueled by money. The first assemblers will be useful in industry producing previously unmakable materials, in medicine preventing previously unpreventable disease, but they will not be capable of universal replication (the ability to replicate any object simply by knowing its design specifications [position and compositional data]). These assemblers will be costly and will employ primitive and thereby weak and limiting technology (as did the first computers).
The second generation will be constructed by scientists/engineers with the knowledge and ability required to create universal assemblers (and they will have created and tested them in laboratories), but who will for reasons of security in a world densely packed with humans distribute only assemblers whose functions are limited by design to the making of particular objects (food, housing, cars, and toward the end of the second generation, space ships). The world will still be one based upon dollars and trade, and these assemblers will still be costly. They will be used initially only in industry and eventually in limited roles for personal use (in the home, car, etc.).
The third wave will come. And the human universe (meaning the area of the universe occupied by humans) will change completely. The third wave will come because it must. The entry of the assembler into the human universe will bring great instability (just as a large round boulder placed on the peak of a mountain surrounded by meadows would bring great instability to the meadows; it is a system on the edge of instantaneous change, waiting only for something to occur that is highly likely). Once the universal assembler escapes its laboratorial confines, it will be only a matter of time before everyone has it, and anything its owner wishes it to build.
The universal assembler will escape the laboratory in any number of ways; it need not escape under its own power, nor would that be its likely course. It will escape with the help or carelessness of its creators, through the help or carelessness of its users, and/or through modifications of its limited cousin.
From the Researchers
At some point in the history of humankind, there was the first recipe for chocolate chip cookies, but it was not unique for long. All the history of science is much the same. When one research team discovers that an STM/AFM can be used to position atoms, many research teams endeavor to do so. Some research team will be the first to create an assembler, and they will publish their results, and their work will be quickly duplicated. Another research team will be the first to create a universal assembler, but their work will be quickly duplicated. The knowledge required for their construction will not be unavailable as the design for a B-2 bomber is, but freely available as are objects of general scientific interest, developed within the free exchange of information that generally exists in academia, objects such as the transistor, the STM, and the computer. Universal assemblers will be understood, and producable by many. Keeping them out of the hands of the general public would require the absolute control of every one of a growing number of research teams that would be scrambling to explore the new horizon. It is useful in considering the infeasibility of assembler suppression by governments/organizations/individuals to consider the demonstrated infeasibility of suppressing ideas. Assemblers are behaviorally like ideas. Governments cannot ever fully suppress the ability of their citizens to form or distribute ideas; some have tried, and all have failed. Assemblers, like ideas, can spread without bound and without cost to the disseminator and they can be transferred easily and anonymously. Government suppression/control, as demonstrated in the attempts to control illicit drugs and illegal arms, always hinges upon the ability to control/detect the production of the items, the ability to track the exchange of the items, and that those involved in making and enforcing the laws are in general agreement with them. The production of assemblers need not be detectable, the distribution of assemblers need not be detectable, and the majority of the people, those who will form the laws which may attempt to regulate it, will want access to the benefits of universal assemblers. This is the instability, this is a system on the verge of a great and fundamental change.
The general public will get assemblers. It will be impossible to control the actions or the knowledge of all engaged in assembler research. It may be that the earliest universal assemblers will require large vacuum-sealed rooms in which to operate, or large rooms bathed in the feedstock for the object to be made. But this requirement will only be for the infancy of universal assemblers; just as MIG/TIG welders create local areas of inert gas to provide the weld with its optimal environment, so too universal assemblers will very rapidly be designed to be able to create any local environments they need to protect and supply their work areas. Gone will be the requirement of large assembler labs. Assemblers will be able to perform their work anywhere.
Researchers will have within their grasp some form of omnipotence; and human nature is such that someone will not keep it within his/her laboratory. Some researcher who can create the sailboat he has always wanted, or the dream home she has always wanted, will find tempation too hard to resist. And they will bring their universal assemblers home and build their dreams with them, since assemblers will cost functionally nothing to operate. And some will distribute them; and so they will spread.
From the Employer
If the universal assembler does not enter the hands of the general public by the hands of the researcher, they could do so through the hands of the user. Researchers may produce for noble reasons, such as to increase knowledge in a specific field, but they also do so for the profitable employment of their research in industry/medicine/etc. Universal assemblers will find immediate employment in industry (before the change to a money-less society). And these employers will suffer the same temptations as the researchers.
By the Limited Assembler
And also it may be possible to birth the third wave from the limited assemblers of the second. The limited assemblers will be capable of making only specific items (e.g., a Sony 8mm HandiCam video camera model #605941) or a group of items (e.g., food). Because their function will be limited, ranging from use in homes as food preparation devices to use in engineering companies as prototyping devices, they will be considered safe for general distribution; and they will be widely distributed. These items will be limited in their abilities by design; the designer of the assembler will introduce limiting logic or components which will cripple the otherwise unlimited assembler. The crippling methods that will be used will most probably be crude. It will be easier to cripple a universal assembler than to design and build an assembler from scratch for one specific task, just as it is easier to install anti-virus software on a computer rather than write a unique operating system for that computer (which would protect it from all virii and also prevent it from using all software not specific to that OS). Nature's limited assemblers, the ribosomes, are not merely crippled universal assemblers, but assemblers which have evolved specific to their task; the protein engineers are demonstrating the difficulties involved in trying to modify these limited assemblers for other tasks. Nature's method of limiting is somewhat more elegant than the methods likely to be implemented by humans. The mechanisms used to cripple the universal assemblers will likely be simple, and they could be defeated. Just as the Internet is littered with the cleverness and skill of budding computer scientists dabbling as computer software "crackers" who can find and exploit the weaknesses in software to make crippled software fully functional, so too will the coming age be littered with budding nanoscientists dabbling as limited assembler crackers.
The universal assemblers will be available to everyone. And this will bring an awkward time, the transition time between the moneyed human universe and the money-less one, between the human universe where universal assemblers will be controlled by a select few and the one in which everyone will have access to them; it will be a time best spent moving off planet Earth, gaining some distance between a society of good and bad that will be struggling to adjust to new lives of excess. Better to be with a bull in a meadow, than with one in a closet.
Design Specifications for Everyone, Free
Matter probes will allow every design to be stolen as soon as the product with the design is released. The matter probes allow the generation of design specifications for every object accessible to anyone. These design specifications would be distributed, accessible freely to everyone over the FutureNet.
Just as warez (illegally distributed software) traders go to great effort to put warez on the Internet/bulletin board systems of the current age, so too would the future designz (illegally distributed design specifications) traders go to great effort to put design specifications on the FutureNet. Money will collapse when the practice of downloading designz becomes common, and thus destroys the market.
It is useful to consider the current difficulties in place for the warez traders, since these will be the potential problems of the designz traders. The current difficulties involved in distributing warez is centered around the large size of each software package (ranging from 1 MB to more than 150 MB) and the limited networked computer resources available to the warez traders. Since warez trading is illegal, and since the vast majority of sites with fast access to the Internet are legitimate companies/schools who do not wish and will not tolerate their network being used for illegal activity, warez traders are generally prevented from establishing permanent and publicizable sites with fast network access. The common practice is instead to use innocent and unsuspecting fast sites which have publicly accessible storage space to stash warez. Typically, more than one server is hit in any one upload period, since as soon as the system operators discover the data on their computer, they will delete it. Warez lists are then distributed like treasure maps by the traders through various e-mail lists, Internet Relay Chat (IRC) channels, and web pages. Designz distribution may begin as wares distribution has, but it will quickly become mainstream. Warez has remained somewhat secretive, because by its definition and the problems related to its nature, it can never have any reliable mainstream outlet. The warez traders do not have the computing facilities of mainstream outlets like Microsoft or Netscape to handle the level of data flow. This problem will be solved for the designz traders by the ability to expand their computer systems as needed with universal assemblers. The designz trader will not long suffer the difficulties of the warez trader, and because of this, they will become relied upon, and acceptable. Everyone will have access to design specifications.
Raw Materials Enough for All
In today's world, raw materials are unevenly distributed. This uneven distribution is the basis for most of the world's trade. Raw materials need not be possessed only by those who have been graced by fortune or been given a fortune. Nanotechnology can make all raw materials equally available, whether the raw materials are molecules, compounds, or atoms. Assemblers can build the raw materials of molecules and compounds from their constituent atoms; and assemblers can be used to indirectly produce all the atomic raw material which may be rare or unavailable.
Nanomachines cannot directly alter the atom; they cannot add or remove protons, neutrons, or electrons. Nanomachines (in the form of assemblers) can, however, build the particle accelerators and nuclear reactors necessary to synthesize any atom. Physicists have been doing this work for years. The science of synthetically producing atoms is over 50 years old. The most recent feat of atomic alchemy was the production of Ununbium, element 112 on the periodic table of elements.
Element 112 was discovered on 9th February 1996 at 22:37 at the GSI in Darmstadt, Germany. The identified isotope currently is the heaviest atom ever produced by man and has an atomic mass of 277, that is, 277 times heavier than hydrogen. The new element was produced by fusing a zinc atom with a lead atom. To achieve this, the zinc atom was accelerated to high energies by the heavy ion accelerator UNILAC at GSI and directed onto a lead target.
Mark Winter , Ph.D., Department of Chemistry at the University of Sheffield, Sheffield, England (http://www.shef.ac.uk/~chem/web-elements/genr/Uub.html
In the case of Plutonium production (for nuclear weapons), the science of synthetic atom production has already experimented with generating large synthetic atom yields (in the case of Plutonium production, the process involved the use of breeder reactors to transform Uranium into Plutonium). The science is proven. No raw material need be out of the free and easy reach of anyone.
Energy Enough for All
Almost all current proposals for assembler designs include the use of free sources of energy such as solar energy or energy contained in nutrient raw materials. The feasibility of these approaches is suggested by the fact that nature employs these methods.
All Things Economic Will Fail
Everything economic depends upon the restricted access to goods and services; nature has promoted this system by the unequal distribution of resources. Where there is no such restrictions there is nothing economic, whether in planned or moneyed economies. Nanotechnology will create the anything box, and the anything box will eliminate the ability to restrict access to goods. The elimination of the goods industry will immediately eliminate the bulk of the service industry, most of which exists to directly or indirectly support the goods industry. The need for many of the service positions which currently exist, doctors, lawyers, auto mechanics, etc., will not immediately disappear with the introduction of assemblers, but will disappear as assemblers are integrated into the designs of the future. Doctors will become almost unnecessary as medical assemblers are able to constantly circulate through the human bloodstream, repairing minor and/or major damage and abnormalities. Lawyers will become less necessary as society spreads itself into space; there will also be fewer reasons to file lawsuits. Auto mechanics will become unnecessary as cars, in their future forms, are made self-repairing. What remains of the service industry will fail with the disappearance of the bulk of its labor force; no one will be required to work to gain access to shelter, food, and luxuries, and what work remains will become volunteer enterprise.
Nanotechnology is coming. Nanotechnology will have the power to alleviate or inflict human suffering on an unimaginable scale, making the human universe a heaven or a hell. The future which comes to pass will likely depend upon the foresight and preparedness of the society which will greet the assembler age. Planning for that society is only possible through predicting its environment-the world created by the infusion of assemblers, and the rapid elimination of so many of the aspects which have marked civilizations throughout recorded history. The chessmaster is able to control his opponent by looking moves ahead and considering at each move all his opponents likely actions. The nanoscientists/nanoengineers must always look well beyond the current accomplishments, trying to predict nanotechnology's course so that society and nanotechnology can find partnership instead of ruin. This paper has been an exploration of one eventual consequence of nanotechnology, the elimination of all things economic; this will by no means be the only significant social upheaval, but it will be one of the most fundamental. Society must prepare for this future.
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Applications of Nanotechnology
Nanotechnology offers engineers a new world of design possibilities. Present engineering is a constant battle of material versus design; engineers must spend the bulk of their time ensuring that designs are in-line with material limitations. Nanotechnology will bring new materials and fewer material limitations. Inventors need not wait for nanotechnology to establish itself before engaging in design speculations, and they have not. Ideas put forth thus far include: diamondoid construction, utility fog, and the orbital tower.
Material properties are determined by a material's molecular structures, macroscopic/microscopic features, and macroscopic/microscopic defects. Nanotechnology offers the ability to control all these aspects of materials and in-so-doing achieve formerly unrealizable materials.
Diamondoid crystalline structure components are one major category of materials which promises to provide superior material properties. The name "diamondoid" refers to a carbon-based, diamond-like molecular construction. These materials will be durable, stiff, have long lives before fatigue failure, and have excellent thermodynamic properties. Further, these structures would provide pressure induced reaction states, currently being studied as piezochemistry, which would allow structures to be built by "snapping" together diamondoid nanoscale building blocks.
Utility Fog (active, polymorphic material)
Instantly, anything, in any color. Imagine having a car that can change its make, model, and color at the touch of a button. No assemblers necessary. Whereas assemblers are geared toward the assembly of objects by the placement of atoms and molecules, a utility fog would create objects in a slightly less permanent manner by interlocking the arms of 100-micron robotic cells ("foglets"). "Instead of building the object you want atom by atom, the tiny robots linked their arms together to form a solid mass in the shape of the object you wanted. Then, when you got tired of that avant-garde coffeetable, the robots could simply shift around a little and you'd have an elegant Queen Anne piece instead." Utility fog can vary its material properties by varying the arrangement and behavior of its foglets; even color could be varied since the color of an object is determined by the object's properties as an antenna in the micron wavelength region. Each foglet could have an 'antenna arm' with which it could vary those properties.
Orbital Tower and the Sky Hook
First proposed in 1960 by Yuri Artsutanov, a Russian engineer, the orbital tower (and its variation, the sky hook) would act as a bridge into space. Instead of escaping the Earth's atmosphere by the gross inefficiencies of burning rocket fuel, why not build a tower 35,000 km tall (twice the distance required for geostationary orbit), and take the elevator? In the sky hook variation, the tower would be replaced with a cable, extending some 35,000 km into space. Contrary to common sense, under this design neither the tower nor the cable would be supported by the earth. Orbital towers and sky hooks would be satellites in geostationary orbit, meaning that they would be orbiting the Earth at the same rate the Earth is turning and thus would be, so far as the Earth would be concerned, standing still. The height above sea level at which objects can be in geostationary orbit is 17,500 km. By building towers and sky hooks twice the height of geostationary orbit, the towers and sky hooks can touch the ground while maintaining a center of mass at the 17,500 km height. Orbital towers and sky hooks would serve as energy efficient bridges from space to planet. "