My greatest concern is that the emergence of this technology without the appropriate public attention and international controls could lead to an unstable arms race.
The really big difference is that what you make with a molecular machine can be completely precise, down to the tiniest degree of detail that can exist in the world.
Likewise nanotechnology will, once it gets under way, depend on the tools we have then and our ability to use them, and not on the steps that got us there.
I've encountered a lot of people who sound like critics but very few who have substantive criticisms. There is a lot of skepticism, but it seems to be more a matter of inertia than it is of people having some real reason for thinking something else.
In thinking about nanotechnology today, what's most important is understanding where it leads, what nanotechnology will look like after we reach the assembler breakthrough.
After realizing that we would eventually be able to build molecular machines that could arrange atoms to form virtually any pattern that we wanted, I saw that an awful lot of consequences followed from that.
Today we have big, crude instruments guided by intelligent surgeons, and we have little, stupid molecules of drugs that get dumped into the body, diffuse around and interfere with things as best they can. At present, medicine is unable to heal anything.
But while doing that I'd been following a variety of fields in science and technology, including the work in molecular biology, genetic engineering, and so forth.
Protein engineering is a technology of molecular machines - of molecular machines that are part of replicators - and so it comes from an area that already raises some of the issues that nanotechnology will raise.
Any powerful technology can be abused.
But if we can manage it so people don't have things forced on them that they don't want, I think there's every reason to believe things can settle out in a situation that is recognizably better than the one we're stuck in today.
If you take all the factories in the world today, they could make all the parts necessary to build more factories like themselves. So, in a sense, we have a self-replicating industrial system today, but it would take a tremendous effort to copy what we already have.
The basic parts, the start-up molecules, can be supplied in abundance and don't have to be made by some elaborate process. That immediately makes things simpler.
And that because the moving parts are a million times smaller than the ones we're familiar with, they move a million times faster, just as a smaller tuning fork produces a higher pitch than a large one.
I had been impressed by the fact that biological systems were based on molecular machines and that we were learning to design and build these sorts of things.
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