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PRESS RELEASE:  MARCH 30, 2005

Molecular Manufacturing: Step by Step

Advanced nanotechnology—molecular manufacturing—will bring benefits and risks, both on an unprecedented scale. A new paper published by the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology suggests that development of molecular manufacturing can be an incremental process from today's capabilities, and may not be as distant as many believe.

“Molecular manufacturing has always had great promise, but as a single challenge, it has seemed intimidating,” says Chris Phoenix, CRN’s Director of Research and author of the paper. “Breaking the problem down into stages shows that it can be achieved step by step.”

Three stages for the development of molecular manufacturing, each with specific milestones, are identified in the paper. The first stage is the computer-controlled fabrication of precise molecular structures. The second stage uses nanoscale tools to build more tools, enabling exponential growth of the manufacturing base. The third stage, which integrates nanoscale products into large structures, leads directly to desktop "nanofactories" that could build advanced products.

Distributed general-purpose integrated manufacturing of high-performance products has many potential impacts. Production of weapons, various forms of vice, and intellectual property violations would be difficult to regulate. Clumsy regulatory attempts could create an intractable black market infrastructure. The easing of logistic constraints could have military implications, as could sudden advances in robotics and aerospace. If used widely enough, a shift in industrial use of raw materials and location of manufacture could affect resource production and international trade patterns.

On the positive side, large-scale use of inexpensive but highly sophisticated technology could quickly replace inefficient or missing infrastructure. Advanced components and materials could make space access cheaper and easier. Rapid prototyping and production of nanoscale devices could be a boon to
medical research and health care.

Mike Treder, Executive Director of CRN, says, “Because both the risks and the benefits of molecular manufacturing are so great, and because it can be developed step-by-step from today’s technologies, it is urgent that we gain a better understanding of the timetable, the capabilities, and the actual implications.”

Phoenix adds,
“Although the most transformative and dangerous results rely on the most advanced stage of development, success in earlier stages could lead to surprisingly rapid development of the more advanced capabilities. There are several specific areas of study that can improve our understanding of the potential of molecular manufacturing. These studies can and should be initiated today.”


 

             
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