Re: Closet biologists story

From: Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Date: Wed Jan 23 2002 - 12:35:00 MST

Alejandro Dubrovsky wrote:
> > e) Centrifuge(s): $1000-$7000
> yes, i assume for isolating ribosomes, you'd want tens of thousands of
> RPMs, but just to separate DNA, what would be the minimum RPM
> requirement? wouldn't a souped up fan spun for a long time do? (only
> half kidding)
> > f) PCR apparatus: $2000-$4000
> on the cheap side, i was thinking of using manpower: 95C tub, 60C tub,
> 72C tub, move eppendorfs from one to the other when you think it's
> appropiate. If this is too mindnumbing and feeling enterprising, grab
> lego mindstorms, get it to do it for you.

Shades of "Let's build a nanomachine!" from the nanotech group...

attached mail follows:

asoshaz123 wrote:
> hi frinds!!!
> I need some help about the algorithmes for
> nanobots and making ananobotes self assembler!
> thanks a lot !
> aso.

Dear Aso,

Don't believe those fuddy-duddies at the Foresight Institute who say that
building nanotechnology will require years and billions of dollars.
Building your own assembler is easy.

You'll need:

An atomic-force microscope
Graph paper
A GNU C compiler
Two AA batteries
A bag of Hershey's chocolates

Obtaining an atomic-force microscope is easy, although most people already
own one (check around in your garage).  Today's AFMs are cheaper than
ever, and several sets of online instructions show how you can construct
your own AFM from Legos and duct tape.  I picked up my own AFM for five
bucks at a garage sale.

Once you have your AFM, your next step is to design the assembler, being
careful to show the exact positions of all atoms on your sheets of graph
paper.  (You may want to consult the Periodic Table of Elements from time
to time if you're not sure about the exact properties of a given element,
or refer back to your high-school physics books for a full explanation of
molecular binding forces.)  This should take a couple of days, or a week
if it's your first assembler design.  A typical assembler might contain a
trillion atoms, so you should probably get a full package of graph paper
from an office supply store in advance.

Next, create the software that directs your assembler to create a copy of
itself.  (Your assembler design should include an on-board computer - you
didn't forget to include it, did you?)  If your on-board computer doesn't
use an existing instruction set, you may need to create a "cross-compiler"
plugin for your programming environment, so be sure to use an open-source
compiler.  (The GNU C compiler is widely used as a cross-compiler.)
Designing and debugging this software will probably take at least three
hours, or longer if you run into any problems, so you should probably
start on a Sunday morning when there's plenty of time.

Once you have the software and the hardware design, the rest of your job
is pretty trivial.  Just take the Atomic Force Microscope and arrange
atoms into the form of the assembler shown on your graph paper.  (If your
Atomic Force Microscope doesn't have a six-degrees-of-freedom manipulator,
shop around until you find one that does).  Arranging a trillion atoms one
by one will be a bit tedious, so you may want to stretch out the work over
a few days instead of doing it all in one afternoon.

Since most of an assembler is carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen,
you'll need a supply of these elements on hand.  Nitrogen is just floating
around in the air, so the trick is finding a good source of
carbon-hydrogen-oxygen, such as sugar.  Chocolate is always a good source
of sugar, so just pick up a bag of Hershey's Kisses at the supermarket.
Be sure to get a whole bag so you don't run out of atoms.

All your assembler needs now is a power supply.  Connect the assembler to
the AA batteries, tell the assembler to start reproducing itself, and
you're off!  (The Foresight Institute recommends that you make sure the
assembler can't reproduce itself in a natural environment, but those
guidelines are only mandatory for professional nanotech companies, not

--              --              --              --              --
Eliezer S. Yudkowsky                
Research Fellow, Singularity Institute for Artificial Intelligence

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