Nano machinery is real, it exists, it powers the world, it's called biology.
The problem is that we seem to have a hard time translating our hard won knowledge of mechanical engineering to the nano scale, I expect some time will pass before the SF visions will become a reality but I think eventually we will get there. Figure another 50 to 100 years or so?
As long as we keep thinking in terms of conventional mechanics (wheels, gears, levers, wires and so on) it's going to be slow progress because we are trying to push down the size limit on our macroscopic ingredients without a real appreciation of what you can do with molecules 'as is'.
I think at some point the 'genetic synthesis' crowd is going to meet up with the 'nano technology' crowd and that's when we'll see some real action. The first little bits of progress in that direction have already been made.
5 to 10 years? 500 to 1000 years? 5000 to 10000 years? 5 to 10 months?
What are we basing our estimates on?
That is the author's real point. If we don't have a good enough handle on the principles necessary to make this into an engineering problem, there just isn't any sense in trying to guess when these technologies will arrive.
Unless you have some facts or data you're keeping from us.
The two fields are complementary I think, one is pushing from the top down trying to make our existing structures smaller (with all the trouble inherent in that, for instance, at the nanoscale there is no such thing as 'smooth', imagine making a bearing out of sandpaper or whatever you can come up with as the nearest equivalent) the other is coming from the bottom up as we learn how our biological structures are formed and what mechanisms are available both as tools and as a working example to study.
Sooner or later (but most likely a little later) there will be a meeting of minds, where new structures will be produced by re-using or adapting the tools that biology has already given us.
I think initially that will be a purely materials science oriented endeavor, mostly concentrating on the medical applications, or a direct application of synthetic molecules (such as artificial DNA) but it's possible there will be more 'mechanically interesting' applications as well.
Nanotech is a lot more than just moving parts, plenty of it would be classed as 'structural engineering'.
The biological part is the one that is moving fastest at the moment, I think at the present speed that two fields will meet and spawn a third field within a very short time, if that hasn't already happened.
For now this meeting place of technology and biology has been named 'synthetic biology' and there is very good progress there, I expect true nanomachinery to be a spin-off of this new field.
Synthetic Biology has made good progress in those four years. See, for example, Craig Venture claiming to create first truly synthetic life-form. If you are in the field, you will start noticing that terms are overlapping. So, your idea of synthetic biology may be related to nano-machines while my idea of synthetic biology may be related to genetic engineering.
This is the point I was paraphrasing.
so really, this guy agrees that it's happening, but he disagrees with the timeline. but he didn't actually provide any information or argument about the rate of progress of miniaturization.
Also, nanosystems fundamentally are at a scale when quantum properties become important, and classical, mechanical rules start breaking down, which makes things really hard.
Having said that, there are some great examples of nanosystems around, from nanoparticles, to polymer drug delivery systems to materials for PET scans and eventually scalable manufacturing of quantum dots etc. The problem is, that breakthrough is always round the corner. Nano's going to be big, but (a) it is not one technology and (b) we need to be patient cause at those scales things are hard.
And if you re-engineered even a simpler version of a ribosome I'd definitely call that nano technology.
We recently discovered structures in soot we now call "Buckyballs" and "Buckytubes".
But nanotechnology encompasses such a broad array of other disciplines that are primarily concerned with operating at the nano-scale. For example, anyone doing research that involves the electromagnetic spectrum (light) would be considered doing research in "nanotechnology". Those people would include: solar cell manufacturers, laser physicists, radiation specialists, electrical engineers...and so on
Hell, since nano is just a length description, ANY profession could be considered "nanotechnology". "Yes, we our car can travel 26 822 400 000 nanometers per second, its amazing"
"I’m willing to bet, at some nebulous point in the future, long after Drexler and I are dead, someone may eventually develop a technology sort of vaguely like what he imagines."
It's been a while since I read Drexler's books, but if I remember correctly he alluded to more mechanical processes than biological ones. The article you linked to is purely biology and not really what Drexler was arguing for.
By analogy, when a carpenter takes a tree and cuts the tree into boards that's engineering, not biology even if the raw materials were provided by biology.
And when you then use those boards to build a house, that's engineering too.
Figure 4 is the takeaway: assembly of simple components into complex structures.
Granted a similar argument can be made for many other comparisons (such as camera or airplanes) but at nano-scales physics of environment plays a tremendous role. The beauty of evolution was that it is an inside-out distributed process so the physics of environment actually helped engineering ribosome.
I wonder if humans will fall back to mechanisms such as guided evolution to create other "nano-machines". Lots of effort has started being put into that direction. Just google "artificial enzymes"
I see this argument a lot, but it doesn't really hold water. Evolution wasn't trying to engineer the ribosome. In fact, the only thing evolution tries to do is replicate. The biological forms that have come out of that are completely random.
Humans, on the other hand, consciously make efforts at engineering. Thousands of monkeys will never (for all practical purposes) manage to write a Shakespearean work, but Shakespeare did.
100 years ago we barely had phones. Almost no one had a car. There were no televisions and movies didn't have sound. Human flight was relegated to hot air balloons. On the other hand, total Internet bandwidth has increased from about 10 terabytes a month to 10,000,000 terabytes a month in the last 15 years. Trying to guess the limits of what we'll be able to do in the next 100 years is unfathomable to me.
Evolution isn't purposeless. Sure, it is a random process but it has a purpose. And that's of survival of the organism (or if you like Dawkins, genes that encode the organism).
> The biological forms that have come out of that are completely random.
Wow, biological forms are NOT random. They are what they are because of the environment they are habituated in. The exact implementation (animal) may not be deterministic but if you set the right fitness function, evolution will produce what you wanted it to produce. Evolution is like a blind tinkerer who knows he needs to fix but doesn't know where to hit the hammer to fix it. He only gets feedback once he has hit the hammer. From the feedback, he can definitely avoid hitting at the wrong spot again and again. I wouldn't call this process random.
My original argument is about engineering macro v/s nano machines. Evolution is great at doing nano work because it is an inside out process.
PS: Thousands of moneys _will_ produce a Shakespearean work if their survival depended on it! (Just kidding)
Is survival a "purpose" or is it just the consequence that is selected for? (Survival isn't a property like length or color.)
As long as we're quibbling/clarifying, it seems we're mixing up natural selection and evolution here.
That's not strictly speaking true in the sense that we normally use 'random'.
I always wonder why people choose monkeys for that analogy, seeing as we're more or less descended from a recent ancestor. At some point there were only thousands of that ancestor, but they managed to produce something capable of writing Shakespeare within a few million years! Maybe a better animal to choose would be octopi...
Many etiological examples can be drawn, but can you not agree that saying "real limitations will always restrain you" is too absolutist?
This isn't supported by observational evidence. Every known life-form on Earth, even the Archaea, makes use of the same fundamental nucleotide transcription machinery (which includes the ribosome). Every indication is that the ribosome is one of the oldest cellular structures, which pegs the upper limit for the amount of time it took to arise via evolution at a few hundred million years.
That is exactly what I expect to happen, see much longer comment above.
Practical nanotech will inevitably harness the forces of life that already exist; why wouldn't it? Saying it's not real Drexlerian nanotech may be true, but it will also be a very uninteresting thing to say. Who cares? What's happening and what's real is what matters, and what's really happening has definitely started and isn't stopping anytime soon.
Headlines such as the one this author has chosen strike me as unpleasantly Digg-like. Exhortations to "stop talking about it and start laughing at it" are anti-intellectual; it's a call to glib derision rather than reasoned rejection.
I think Louis C.K. captured the essence better than anyone (http://www.time.com/time/arts/article/0,8599,1885790,00.html)
and while I agree the term is really loaded, ML is different from statistics in its approach and the discoveries it made. For example, ML showed that some techniques are much more effective at scale (large datasets) than suspected by most statisticians, as recognized by "hard core" statisticians like Wasserman.
(Note table near start of article, particularly entries for "large grant" and "nice place to have a meeting.")
Traditionally statistics is more geared towards hypothesis testing and analytics. While Machine Learning is about making prediction.
Only few methods such as K nearest neighbors are non parametric, rest all methods such as SVM's, decision trees are all parametric.
So using it as a jargon is a bad idea.
The people that write the proposals are going to try to maximize their chances, think of it as marketing.
Nano-technology was terribly oversold so it lost it's glamor, but the concept is real, synthetic biology is real as a concept and only just now beginning to make some headway, eventually, long after it has lost it's glamor too it will be a mainstay of industry.
Just like the humble transistor is no longer glamorous, it's 'just' technology now. But in 1947 it was a miracle.
Buzzwords ideally should lose their power because the tech behind them becomes commonplace, when they're oversold we have a problem (looking at you, AI).
Also, "Mechanical objects on microscales do not exist" is gratuitously false, we even have really simple mechanical objects (like cantilevers) on the 100nm scale now.
For that to work you have to have a really good understanding of the subject matter though, and I think he does Drexler great disservice when he says "He seems to lack the imagination, and of course, the physics to figure out what a real nanosized doodad might look like.".
That to me is the hallmark of someone with an ax to grind rather than an objective reviewing of a book written quite a while ago.
Of course Drexler didn't have the physics to figure out what a real nanobot might look like, nobody did, and nobody does.
Drexler could not have easily foreseen some of the obstacles a direct translation of mechanical concepts would encounter, but there are more ways to skin a cat, and biology seems to have found at least one of them.
Now it's up to us to find either another path or to harness biology to produce those structures that we can not produce by direct means and to build up a library of tested components to do our 'nano engineering' with.
I see Drexler more as a visionary than as a 'hard applicable science' guy and that's the way to approach his book. If you're looking for a 'ready to build' nano bot or a hard treatise on nano engineering you're not going to find it, if we had had that at that time then we wouldn't be where we are today.
Incidentally, I think that the 'proponents' of nano tech have done a very bad job at raising expectations (Drexler among them), I do believe that long term nano technology will become a reality and will become a mainstay of our technological arsenal. Just like electronics, which were practically non-existent one hundred years ago are today.
Well then I fail to see how anyone can justify calling this a technology then, when there ain't even any physics to describe it.
i agree with your assessment.
Interesting. Do you have a link or paper name for that?
So it seems there are some terminology differences to sort out.
Everybody seems to have a different definition for everything, usually the definitions tend to absurdity depending on whether the person is a skeptic or a 'true believer'.
It's very boring because in the end the terminology should be secondary to the goals and how we go about achieving them.
That's not exactly true. See, for example
for a 60 micrometers by 250 micrometers robot from 2005.
Of course, that's not nanotechnology, and the article's main point might well be valid. Still, there seems to be a good deal of exaggeration in it.
Much longer refutation: http://www.rfreitas.com
> "We don’t even have micromachines. Mechanical objects on microscales do not exist."
I think every Russian HNer laughed out loud when they saw this title. Nanotech here in Russia is a synonym of enormous and inefficient government spending on vaporware since they started considering it a "National project". To be fair, I have no idea how true it is, but it does look very much so, especially with frequent appearance in news but no details about actual results.
I want my 60 seconds back.
But I also want my (120) seconds back.
Anyone who wants to read good research in nano tech can browse through this journal: http://pubs.acs.org/journal/nalefd
This is same as saying to someone working on EINACS and early computers that they are a laughing stock and nothing but huge calculators. Reminds me of an article by Scott Aaronson : "Whats taking so long Mr. Babbage" : http://scottaaronson.com/blog/?p=446
You can test the OP's picture of Drexler this way considerably more easily than by studying _Nanosystems_ yourself (which is hard).
But the author here overstates his case quite a bit. "Millitech"? There are many microscale mechanical systems out there, both in the lab and in industrial applications. Accelerometers are one example; the actuated mirrors in DLP projectors are another. If there's no microtechnology out there, I know a lot of MEMS engineers who are going to be surprised to here it.
A lot of what's called nanotech now could have been called physical chemistry thirty years ago, especially a lot of the "let's put nanoparticles in it!" projects out there. But there's some pretty real nanotech out there too, even if it doesn't qualify under the self-replicating nanobots definition. One example I can think of is the work being done on nanoscale printing--not lithography, but actual physical printing of materials into nanoscale patterns. And there's some pretty cool controlled nanoparticle engineering work out there too.
Also what ever happened to Feynman's idea of building half size remote controlled arms, which we then use to build half sized of that remote controlled arms, all the way down to a very small scale? Has anyone ever tried that?
Yes, you can assemble molecules with AFM. The problem with this idea is that either (a) the molecules don't stick together at temperatures much above absolute zero, or (b) they do, in which case they might be stable at useful temperatures, in which case it's better to figure out how to get them to self-assemble or to find a catalyst/enzyme that helps them self-assemble. Because your nifty molecule just isn't that nifty if it doesn't exist in quantities of order 1 mole, and 1 mole is... a lot. You just won't believe how vastly mind-bogglingly big 10^23 is.
All of which boils down to this: This essay is great, but the meat of it really is in the first paragraph. Nanotech is a euphemism for chemistry and biochemistry. It is 100% possible -- indeed, nanotech is older than any human-invented technology by many orders of magnitude, by definition, because humans are built out of "nanotech" -- but it's all just chemistry. The real question is why the word nanotechnology is so much more fashionable in grant-writing circles than the old words.
The author thinks this is impossible because progress is slow. That's not really an argument, but I'll agree that "just you wait and see!" isn't one either.
However, biology shows us that it's not impossible to do self-replicating "machinery" so I think we'll get there one day, but it might probably be a lot more organic and a lot less mechanical than we currently envision when we say nanotech.
Later in the story he fighting with bacteria and viruses, but because of the feedback of his microscopic arm, he was injured and almost killed by these tiny creatures.
Drexler's egotistical to be sure. It doesn't make him wrong
Also, self-replication is actually easier at the molecular level because all the parts are perfectly regular.
And ducks can fly with flexible wings.
And the Sun is a thermonuclear reactor.
You can find demonstrations of this type of things everywhere, that doesn't means that we can make them work with our materials, techniques and knowledge.
Nanotech seems to my like AI, always there, at just two steps... that's the type of problems that smell to vaporware from miles.
Now if only we could re-program women to make iPhones. The late-night trips to the gas station and gravel store because wife has another petroleum and sand-craving would totally be worth it.
The life if full of examples of things we know how to use but that we don't understand. Sometimes it's just impossible to control that things. Think in the stock market or economics. Chemist has been studying this type of things for centuries and you can see the result: there are chemical products everywhere you look.
What the post attack is the concept of creating nanomachines that doesn't degrade (Cosmic rays! oxidation! temperature!!) and do exactly what we want.
And about the "artificial DNA", it's something so simple... Really! the problem is in the emergent properties of DNA, proteins and environmental effects, this is where you loose control. Even nature has problems with that, life forms die, had cancer...
"coating one millionth of a millimetre thick – 500 times thinner than a human hair – can be applied to virtually any surface to protect it against water, dirt, bacteria, heat and UV radiation."
Aren't biological cells replicating nanobots? Or are they bigger than nano scale?
This seems to cover the topic...
Because those seem to operate perfectly happily in a nanoscale environment, manipulating things around them.
Still, lot's of interesting things should be possible...