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Engines of Creation Review

Engines of Creation Review

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Published by Stryker_12
Here are some detailed notes I took on K. Eric Drexler's 1986 book "Engines of Creation." This is regarded as a seminal work in the fields of nanotechnology and human cryonics.
Here are some detailed notes I took on K. Eric Drexler's 1986 book "Engines of Creation." This is regarded as a seminal work in the fields of nanotechnology and human cryonics.

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Published by: Stryker_12 on Jun 15, 2009
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08/17/2011

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Engines of CreationBy: Eric Drexler Chapter 1: Engines of ConstructionCreation involves the manipulation of matter and hence atoms.To date, our techniques have been through “bulk technology”: the imprecise manipulation of mass numbers of atoms. “Molecular technology,” or “nanotechnology,” is a bottom-up approachin which atoms are precisely joined.Proteins can literally function as microscopic machines (i.e.—flagellum engines, actin-myosincrossbridges, etc.).Designing proteins to perform a given function is extremely difficult given the complexity of the protein folding process.The ability to design proteins would be a first step towards useful nanotechnology.Proteins are not ideal for nanomachines since they are fragile and do not function at temperatureextremes.Each generation of nanomachines will give engineers new capabilities and will allow them to build even better nanomachines. More generally, technology empowers the development of moreadvanced technology.Microfibers are the first use for nanotechnology. They are simple, repeated polymers. Completestructures will require another level of complexity.Protein machines are like enzymes in that they can precisely join or split two molecules. Theyare also like ribosomes in that they are programmable. However, protein machines will not berestricted to manipulating amino acids only and will be able to make structures out of metals.Second-generation nanomachines (some will be Universal Assemblers) will be synthetic insteadof protein-based and will be able to perform the same functions as their predecessors, but better and under a wider range of conditions.The Uncertainty Principle does not make atomic manipulation impossible. Indeed, it has almostno effect. Anyway, the existence of ribosomes shows that molecular machines are possible.Thermal vibrations pose more of a threat to proper molecular machine function than theUncertainty Principle does, but the barrier is still overcome—DNA polymerases assemble proteins and correct most of the thermally induced errors. Man made nanomachines could havetheir own proofreading systems.Radiation breaks bonds between atoms, damaging larger structures. Life has adapted to this withrepair mechanisms. Nanomachines, while less vulnerable to radiation hits thanks to their smallsize, will have to have such repair mechanisms as well.Evolution has failed to produce assemblers because the DNA/RNA/ribosome system is suited tomaking proteins only. Assemblers are simply too much of a leap to evolve naturally.“Improved molecular machinery should no more surprise us than alloy steel being ten timesstronger than bone, or copper wires transmitting signals a million times faster than nerves.”Assemblers will allow bottom-up construction of computer chips, allowing for 3D chips withoutany flaws that hinder computing. Current methods only allow for 2D chips with molecule-sizedflaws.Computers can be either mechanical or electrical. The first mechanical computer was invented inthe mid-1800’s by Charles Babbage. Large-scale mechanical computers are impractical becauseof slow speeds, but microscopic mechanical computers with components a few atoms across1
 
could function faster than electronic computers since the components could be placed muchcloser together.Disassemblers could take apart objects, atom by atom, and record their structure for replication.Genetic technology is the first step towards synthetic nanotechnology.Each advance shall enable the next.The advancement of technology is inevitable and can be barred only by worldwide destruction or worldwide regulation.Molecular machines will represent a technological revolution on par with the advent of nuclear weapons or the discovery of antibiotics. Life will be profoundly affected.Chapter 2: The Principles of ChangeUnderstanding the principles of change will help us to understand the potential for good and evil presented by nanotechnology.Evolution is fueled by selection and random variation (mutation). Evolution occurs in livingorganisms and in molecules (proteins and RNA).
Geologists and archaeologists the world over have clearly observed that species of specific typesare found in specific layers of Earth, and that each layer’s age can be ascertained. Furthermore,the layers always occur in the same order, indisputably indicating that different types of life predominated on Earth during different stages of our planet’s history.
Drexler agrees with Kurzweil that technology and intelligence have effectively enhanced the rateof evolution by thousands fold.Technology also evolves incrementally. Most advancement results from evolution rather thanrevolution. In rare instances, innovation occurs entirely by accident.Selection also occurs in the workplace, factory and free market. Evolution is everywhere.Technology gives humans the edge over the natural world because our intelligence allows us toenhance our abilities far faster than nature can evolve (in most circumstances).Progress cannot be stopped.The human mind is the information repository for technological innovation just as the cellnucleus is the information repository for biological evolution.Memes are attitudes and beliefs held by people. Most are selfish, but protective. A commonmeme is the tendency to reject risky new ideas in favor of older, tested ideas. This has bothadvantages and disadvantages.The principles of change will shape the development of nanotechnology.Chapter 3: Predicting and ProjectingThe development of technology needs to be controlled to ensure public safety.On December 30
th
, 1959, Dr. Richard Feynman gave his speech “There’s plenty of room at the bottom” to the American Physical Society. His speech was based around three major ideas: first,manipulating atoms individually to build molecules did not violate the laws of physics, second,the technology to do so would eventually arrive as our ability to make smaller and smaller generations of robots improved, and third, the arrival of such technology is inevitable.While Feynman and others correctly predict that nanomachines will emerge, Drexler resists theidea of setting a timetable for the development of the technology. As has been seen with pasttechnologies, “The nuances of detail and competitive advantage that select winning technologiesmake the technology race complex and its path unpredictable.”2
 
The first functioning assemblers will be a breakthrough that might occur very suddenly after years of quiet development.Depending on how we handle the technology, the human race could be led to destruction or abundance.Chapter 4: Engines of AbundanceMarch 27
th
1981: NASA scientist predicts that self-replicating machines will exist within 20years. Drexler cites this as an example of how an expert can be sure of something’s invention, but not of the exact date of invention.Advances in automation will naturally lead to replicating machines.Large machines make smaller machines already. The process at all levels will becomeincreasingly automated until machines do all of this themselves.Replicators that build nanomachines will be complex and themselves with be comprised of successive nanomachines that perform different construction functions.Assemblers are mechanical ribosomes that can be programmed to build any type of molecule.They use mechanical arms to manipulate atoms and get their instructions from a synthetic “strip”of DNA-like material.Drexler describes a nanomachine assembler as being very similar to a ribosome. Nanomachine manipulator arms would move millions of times a second. Drexler cites thequickened pace of appendage movement as animals decrease in size and the fast pace of enzymefunction as proofs.Drexler approximates the number of atoms needed for an assembler to be less than a billion. Atone million operations per second, the assembler could make a copy of itself in 15 minutes—thesame time for a bacterium to divide.Replicators would grow exponentially in number but would be constrained by availableresources.Heat becomes an issue as assembler speed increases and it serves as a limiting factor.Molecular assemblers could build simple, constituent parts that would then be put together withlarger devices similar to those already in existence.Drexler’s idea of how assemblers would make a rocket engine:-A large vat is filled with assemblers suspended in liquid.-A nanocomputer with the stored instructions is inserted into the center of the vat.-The nanocomputer has junctures where assemblers can join to it and download its instructions.-Nearby assemblers join the nanocomputer and in turn join themselves to other assemblers viaarms until an assembler “scaffolding” of the rocket engine is formed.-The fluid is exchanged to remove excess assemblers and to pump in a metal- and energy-richsolution.-The assemblers activate, using the solution both as a construction material and as fuel for their own functions.-The assemblers are surrounded by channels through which the solution flows, delivering neededmaterials and removing excess heat. The flow is powered by flagellar motions of specializedassembler arms.-The resulting engine is extremely strong and light, seamless, and uses no nanotechnology for itsfunctioning.3

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