Re: Bootstrapping to nanotech

Hal Finney (
Thu, 28 Aug 1997 15:51:59 -0700

On the Foresight Exchange on-line game (nee Robin Hanson's Idea Futures),
I created a claim for people to bet on the date that the Feynman Grand
Prize will be awarded by the Foresight Institute (no relation to the
Foresight Exchange).

This prize requires the design and construction of 32 copies each of
two nanotech devices: a robot arm capable of .1 nanometer positional
accuracy which fits within a 100 nm cube, and a computational device,
an 8-bit binary adder, which fits within a 50 nm cube.

I would guess that meeting the required .1 nanometer positional accuracy
for the robot arm will be difficult with protein based assemblers.
.1 nm is about the size of a hydrogen atom. Without knowing much about
the stiffnesses involved, it seems likely that a protein based system
will have more slop in it than that.

There may also be some difficulty in building the adder out of proteins.
50 nm is not all that big. Ribosomes are about 25 nm in diameter and
although what they do is important, they are basically enzymes which
catalyze the assembly of amino acids. As far as is known they have no
moving parts. Ribosomes presumably had to be that big in order to get
the active sites shaped the way they had to be. So it is questionable
whether you could build an 8 bit adder out of proteins in a 50 nm cube.

Based on this I think that awarding the Feynman Grand Prize will require
progress beyond proteinoid nanotech, to something similar to diamond.

The claim on the FX game has not been very heavily played, a dozen
shares changing hands every couple of months. But for what it's worth,
the date predicted by the players has hovered around 2025-2030. So if
we get a simple form of nanotech in the late 2010's, to pick the magic
"twenty years off" where breakthroughs always seem to hover, this would
suggest another 10 years or so to produce diamondoid nanotech or
something similar.