Re: nanoassembler -1 = ?

dan (
Tue, 27 Jul 1999 18:54:02 -0400 wrote:
> Ok, here's a question.
> Does anyone know as precisely as possible what the minimum technology will
> be required in order to build the first assembler? In other words, if the exact
> procedures for building the first assembler are published on the internet,
> what will be the minimum resources required for any group of individuals
> to build that assembler?
> Please elaborate. Are we talking $10,000 of desktop equipment? A
> $100,000 laboratory? A multi-million dollar research facility?
> Paul Hughes

Unfortunately, your question is a bit open-ended. Drexler's Book Nanosystems specifies assemblers to a fair degree of precision, but they cannot be built for any price using current technology. An organization that wants to built an assembler starting now will have to expend a whole bunch of money on research to get from here to there. There are several outlines of possible strategies, but none are anywhere near being engineering specifications.

Therefore, you need to make some assumptions about the precursor equipment
to be used at the time the plans are to be posted on the internet. If you must start with then-current macro or micro-scale equipment and/or chemical stuff, you could be talking anywhere from a million dollars (a full-up vacuum system including electron microscopes, for example) to a billion (a thousand million) dollsrs if you must use full-up, bleeding-edge semiconductor manufacturing technology.

It may be possible to build nanotube-based assemblers using MEMS equipment
and nanotube feedstock. The MEMS chip would be a lot less complex than a CPU, and high-quality nanotubes may be a commodity item: say $100/kilogram. If so, the whole nantech - 1 setup could be had for <$2000. However, If you can build them, so can everybody else, so just buy a few assemblers.

If you can purchase some primitive nanoassemblers to start with, the intermediate-level gear to connect them to a desktop computer should cost less than a thousand dollars, and the computer need not be too sophisticated. This should allow you to build any nanodevice for which you have a design (or a design chain.)

IMO, within two years of the availability of the first dumb assemblers, designs (or design chains) will be broadly available for most simple commodities. A simple commodity is something made of one diamond without truly elaborate shapes at the nano level. Simple commodities can replace most structural stuff, flatware, dinnerware, most formed metal parts, some furniture, formed concrete and asphalt, etc. That is, anything that is fairly easy to describe precisely.

Note: I just made up the term "design chain." A design chain is recursively
defined as the specification for designing something using a set of tools and or materials for which you have a design chain or which are readily available. Presumably, design chain recursion terminates at the lowest level with "given a bunch of atoms an assembler, and this spec, build the next-level nanomachine." The design chain for something as simple
as a macro-level hammer would presumable include a dozen levels and thousands
of intermediate machines.

The desigh chains for a great many product classes will be fairly easy to derive from existing macro designs, needing only the lowest levels to be converted to nano. This is especially true of semiconductors.

Here's the real problem: given the existence of assemblers, who are you going to buy the macro-level equipment from? What is going to hold the economy together to allow a company to build the nanoassembly box to plug into your computer?

This is the tip of the iceberg. I'm sure you see many of the ramifications.