The starting point of the recent nanotechnology vogue was the potential applications of molecular manufacturing, as proposed by Eric Drexler. Although these applications may not currently be commercially viable, they have been an influence on what researchers are attempting to make possible.
What is Molecular Manufacturing?
Using molecular manufacturing, radical scientists see the potential for self-replicating nano machines, perhaps biomimetic, that are able to construct anything by placing atoms together in the required structure. These assemblers will require instructions on what to make, energy to power them, and enough materials (usually elemental atoms) to make what is required. The hope is that, in the future, each home will have its own self-assembly unit that can construct anything the user requires, using blueprints purchased from the designer.
Molecular Manufacturing as the Original Concept of Nanotechnology
This form of nanotechnology has been termed ‘molecular manufacturing’ and, according to Drexler, is the original conception of nanotechnology. These assemblers could also be used to clean the environment of all pollutants, by using surplus atoms (such as carbon) in the atmosphere to create artefacts. The expectation is that molecular manufacturing will be incredibly cheap, leading to material abundance across the globe and thereby eliminating poverty in the Third World.
Molecular Manufacturing and Immortality
Molecular manufacturing has also been heralded as eventually being able to prolong human life through the eradication of disease and the ageing process, even leading to speculations of immortality. This stems from gaining control of matter at the atomic scale, leading to the capability of repairing such nanoscale structures as cells.
Nanosubmarines in the Bloodstream and Nanosynthesised Substitutes to Replace Body Parts
Applications range from ‘nanosubmarines’ in the bloodstream targeting and eliminating malignant cells (such as cancerous tumours) to the improvement of human performance through the replacement of body parts with nanosynthesised substitutes. These could be as ordinary as biocompatible bone replacements to the more radical idea of improving intelligence through design or technological assistance. The feasibility of all this is a major debating point in the discussion surrounding nanotechnology.