Re: Dr Freitas on nanomedicine

Hal Finney (
Fri, 31 Jul 1998 14:32:04 -0700

One thing I didn't find on that web site was information about the author. Who is Robert A. Freitas? What are his credentials? Is he an M.D.? Biochemist? Engineer?

This book series seems highly speculative to me. It is very early to be predicting specific nanotech devices for medical purposes, especially in enough detail to fill a three volume set! I can see making some sketches, a few general ideas of what would be possible, like Leonardo's visions of flying machines. But I doubt that we are able today to predict the specifics of these future machines in the kind of detail that would justify such a publication.

The last item of his FAQ asks about the benefits of such technology. After pointing out the obvious, elimination of disease, pain and suffering he goes on to discuss brain enhancements.

> Consider that a nanostructured data storage device measuring ~8,000
> micron3, a cubic volume about the size of a single human liver cell and
> smaller than a typical neuron, could store an amount of information
> equivalent to the entire Library of Congress. If implanted somewhere
> in the human brain, together with the appropriate interface mechanisms,
> such a device could allow extremely rapid access to this information.
> A single nanocomputer CPU, also having the volume of just one tiny human
> cell, could compute at the rate of 10 teraflops (1013 floating-point
> operations per second), approximately equalling (by many estimates)
> the computational output of the entire human brain. Such a nanocomputer
> might produce only about 0.001 watt of waste heat, as compared to the ~25
> watts of waste heat for the biological brain in which the nanocomputer
> might be embedded.

It's a huge step from fixing broken chromosomes and killing bacteria to being able to interface to a Library of Congress neuron. Glossing over the immense difficulty of the "appropriate interface mechanisms" makes this a highly misleading example, in my opinion. The tiny nanocomputer is problematical as well. I suspect that "only" .001 watt, when emitted by a device the size of a cell, would cause significant localized cooling problems, not to mention the software problems needed to make effective use of this computer within the framework of the brain.

Overall the book sounds like it may be an interesting piece of speculative engineering, but I wonder whether it will do much in the long run to advance nanotechnology.