Richard Jones over at Soft Machines has comments on molecular manufacturing. Richard: ì[S]ystems that make thingsî should only be a small part of the story. We need systems that do things – we need to process energy, process information, and, in the vital area of nanomedicine, interact with the cells that make up humans and their molecular components. CP: Yes, but as has been repeatedly pointed out, we need better systems that make things in order to build better systems that do things. Manufacturing may be a boring word compared to energy, information, and medicine, but it is fundamental to all. See Read More. Richard: For the idea of general purpose manufacturing to be convincing, one would need to believe that there was an analogous way in which all material things could be represented by a simple low level code. CP: But isn't it the case that we already have ways to represent 3D molecular structures in code, including atom types and bonds? It's not clear why this wouldn't do the job. It's true that atoms come in more types than bits, but why should that be a showstopper? (Yes, I know you did not use that word! But you implied it. ;^)
Richard: I think this leads to an insoluble dilemma – the need to find simple low level operations drives one to use a minimum number – preferably one – basic mechanosynthesis step. But in limiting ourselves in this way, we make life very difficult for ourselves in trying to achieve the broad range of functions and actions that we are going to want these artefacts for. Material properties are multidimensional, and itís difficult to believe that one material can meet all our needs. CP: How did we get into the position of needing to use only one material here? First we were discussing the representation of structures, and now the (alleged) need for simple low-level representation codes has turned into a need to use one material. This seems like fuzzy thinking… or maybe, soft? Sorry, sorry, couldn't resist it! But seriously, this does not follow.
Richard: Matter is not digital. CP: Atoms are digital, for our purposes here, rather than analog. Really, they are, close enough for engineering purposes. (Reminder to readers: digital does not mean binary; it means discrete instead of continuous in value.) We can't play with them they way we can with bits…yet. But someday, we will. Yes, there are rules that must be followed, but we'll learn to keep within them, as we've learned to follow rules in arranging bits into patterns that make sense. The main question is, how long will it take, which partly depends on how much is invested, which partly depends on when this current debate is concluded. So thanks for helping get it over with, Richard! May the correct perspective prevail, whatever it may be.–Christine