Nanotechnology (or molecular nanotechnology to refer more specifically to the goals discussed here) will let us continue the historical trends in manufacturing right up to the fundamental limits imposed by physical law. It will let us make remarkably powerful molecular computers. It will let us make materials over fifty times lighter than steel or aluminum alloy but with the same strength. We'll be able to make jets, rockets, cars or even chairs that, by today's standards, would be remarkably light, strong, and inexpensive. Molecular surgical tools, guided by molecular computers and injected into the blood stream could find and destroy cancer cells or invading bacteria, unclog arteries, or provide oxygen when the circulation is impaired.
Nanotechnology will replace our entire manufacturing base with a new, radically more precise, radically less expensive, and radically more flexible way of making products. The aim is not simply to replace today's computer chip making plants, but also to replace the assembly lines for cars, televisions, telephones, books, surgical tools, missiles, bookcases, airplanes, tractors, and all the rest. The objective is a pervasive change in manufacturing, a change that will leave virtually no product untouched. Economic progress and military readiness in the 21st Century will depend fundamentally on maintaining a competitive position in nanotechnology.
Self Replication and Low Cost Many researchers think self replication will be
the key to unlocking nanotechnologies full potential, moving it from a
laboratory curiosity able to expensively make a few small molecular machines and
a handful of valuable products to a robust manufacturing technology able to make
myriads of products for the whole planet. We know self replication can
inexpensively make complex products with great precision: cells are programmed
by DNA to replicate and make complex systems including giant redwoods, wheat,
whales, birds, pumpkins and more. We should likewise be able to develop
artificial programmable self replicating molecular machine systems also known as
assemblers able to make a wide range of products from graphite, diamond, and
other non-biological materials. The first groups to develop assemblers will have
a historic window for economic, military, and environmental impact.