Thirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies - #8
Overview of all studies: Because of the largely
unexpected transformational power of molecular manufacturing, it is urgent to
understand the issues raised. To date, there has not been anything approaching
an adequate study of these issues. CRN's recommended series of
thirty essential studies
is organized into five sections, covering fundamental theory, possible
technological capabilities, bootstrapping potential, product capabilities, and
policy questions. Several preliminary conclusions are stated, and because our
understanding points to a crisis, a parallel process of conducting the studies
CRN is actively looking for researchers interested in
performing or assisting with this work. Please contact CRN Research Director
Chris Phoenix if you would like more information or if you have comments on
the proposed studies.
will be required to develop diamondoid machine-phase chemical manufacturing
|This explores the
various steps needed to develop a complete manufacturing system based on
diamondoid vacuum mechanosynthesis.
computer time and human creativity would it take to invent, then simulate
and verify a set of diamondoid-building (and/or graphene-building)
|Robert Freitas has
proposed a $5 million,
five-year project to do just that; the project would also simulate the
construction of nanodevices using these reactions.
|What will be
involved in developing a non-diamondoid manipulation system that can carry
out the required manipulations to build the first system?
|Unknown, but it
should be noted that we can now lithographically fabricate features that are
smaller than the molecules we can engineer. In other words, we can build
pretty much any shape at any size scale.
can the operation of diamondoid machine parts be simulated? What would be
the cost and development time of a CAD/simulation system capable of
extracting mechanical characterization from molecular dynamics simulation of
|Unknown, but this
is a much easier problem than characterizing proteins: the parts involved
are much stiffer, and energetic computations can afford to be much less
accurate. Hydrocarbon MM packages have been around for years (e.g. Brenner)
and are now appearing in open source software (e.g. NanoHive).
parts and surfaces would be needed to constitute a complete set of low-level
structural and functional components? How much human effort would be
required to develop them?
components include rotational, helical, and flat bearings; conductive and
insulating components; molecular interfaces between different surfaces and
crystal orientations. Note that Freitas expects to design at least some
working components as part of his
$5 million proposal.
be the cost and development time of a CAD/simulation/tracking system that
could support the design of machines and systems from low-level components?
comparable to high-end software design tools, or semiconductor design tools
circa 1990. It wouldn't have to handle a lot of different parts or physics,
at least in early versions where performance can be sacrificed to reduce
undesired interactions between parts.
be the cost of developing a design for an integrated, hierarchical
manufacturing system to build large products?
architecture for such a design has been worked out. The molecular
fabrication in that design is based on a simple robotic-chemistry design by
Ralph Merkle. Many fabricators make parts in parallel, and the parts are
then combined via convergent assembly. Merkle's design requires perhaps 100
moving parts and half a billion atoms (most of which don't have to be
individually specified). Convergent assembly appears to require only simple
robotics at several scales. Assembly and fabrication appear to require only
simple control software. Much of the engineering, even at nanometer scales,
will be more or less familiar to mechanical engineers. Overall engineering
difficulty might be comparable to an aerospace project.
|How many of
these steps could be accomplished concurrently in a crash program?
|All of these steps
could be started concurrently, with successive refinement. This may not
happen due to caution on the part of the funders. However, a funding
organization that was willing to fund a crash program could probably do all
these steps in parallel.
precisely can costs and schedules be estimated?
|Due to lack of
study, very little information is available. For the sub-projects that we
can estimate, the cost is consistently under $1 billion, and several appear
to cost just a few million. Also, all of them (with the exception of
software engineering, which should not be a major fraction of the total
cost) appear to be getting easier rapidly. We can't rule out the possibility
that the whole thing might cost less than $1 billion; in fact, that appears
likely to us, though we don't say it loudly because it sounds too
implausible. A project starting five or ten years from now very likely would
find the cost greatly reduced. (However, other studies indicate that this is
not a sufficient reason to delay; it's simply evidence that if we do delay,
a rapidly increasing set of organizations will be able to do it.)
again, very little information is available. The argument parallels the cost
discussion. The project can be divided cleanly into sub-projects. In the
areas where we can make estimates for the sub-projects, the estimates are
surprisingly short. We don't see any sub-project that needs to take more
than five years. Doing all sub-projects in parallel would require excellent
management, visionary funding, and good communication to ensure smooth
integration. But this appears feasible, and implies that the whole thing
might be done in five years with sufficient effort and skill. (But
government bureaucracy is not well suited to do this.)
At a guess, the difficulty and schedule of developing a tabletop kg-scale
manufacturing system producing kg-scale nano-featured products may be
comparable to the Apollo Program. Or it may be quite a bit easier; we can't
know without more engineering investigation. At this point, we can't rule
out the possibility that it could be done in five years for less than $1
billion. Note also that work on this may have already started somewhere, and
may be quite close to completion.
mechanically guided chemistry a viable basis for a manufacturing technology?
2. To what extent is molecular manufacturing counterintuitive and
underappreciated in a way that causes underestimation of its importance?
3. What is
the performance and potential of diamondoid machine-phase chemical
manufacturing and products?
4. What is the performance and potential of biological programmable
manufacturing and products?
5. What is the performance and potential of nucleic acid
manufacturing and products?
6. What other chemistries and options should be studied?
applicable sensing, manipulation, and fabrication tools exist?
9. What will be required to develop biological programmable
manufacturing and products?
10. What will be required to develop nucleic acid manufacturing and
11. How rapidly will the cost of development decrease?
12. How could an effective development program be structured?
13. What is
the probable capability of the manufacturing system?
14. How capable will the products be?
15. What will the products cost?
16. How rapidly could products be designed?
of today's products will the system make more accessible or cheaper?
18. What new products will the system make accessible?
19. What impact will the system have on production and distribution?
20. What effect will molecular manufacturing have on military and
government capability and planning, considering the implications of arms
races and unbalanced development?
21. What effect will this have on macro- and microeconomics?
22. How can proliferation and use of nanofactories and their products
23. What effect will this have on policing?
24. What beneficial or desirable effects could this have?
25. What effect could this have on civil rights and liberties?
26. What are the disaster/disruption scenarios?
27. What effect could this have on geopolitics?
28. What policies toward development of molecular manufacturing does
all this suggest?
29. What policies toward administration of
molecular manufacturing does all this suggest?
30. How can appropriate policy be made and implemented?
|Studies should begin
|The situation is
extremely urgent. The stakes are unprecedented, and the world is unprepared.
The basic findings of these studies should be verified as rapidly as
possible (months, not years). Policy preparation and planning for
implementation, likely including a crash development program, should begin