Celebrating its 20th anniversary, the nanotechnology classic book Engines of Creation is out in a new, free e-book version (5.4 MB pdf) from WOWIO. Material added since the original edition includes a Letter from the Author, Feynman’s 1959 talk, Advice to Aspiring Nanotechnologists (very similar to the author’s Foresight Briefing 1: Studying Nanotechnology, a longtime favorite), two classic technical papers, the Drexler-Smalley debate from Chemical & Engineering News, and an analysis by Ray Kurzweil of that debate. A very quick check seems to indicate that the main body of the text has not changed much, but it’s worth downloading for the other material, such as this excerpt on global warming:
Molecular machinery can be used to sort gas molecules to extract carbon dioxide from air. This requires substantial energy—the process compresses a gas—but it can be done with good thermodynamic efficiency. To remove 100 parts per million of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as a whole, compressing it to liquid density for long-term storage, would require several terawatts of power for 10 years. This could be provided by solar arrays with the total area of a square roughly 200 kilometers on a side. By providing the necessary molecular machinery and dropping the cost of the arrays, molecular manufacturing can make it affordable to remove and store the excess carbon dioxide that has accumulated since the industrial revolution.
Abilities of this magnitude may arrive sooner than most would expect. The last 50 years have shown the incredible dynamism of technologies in the microworld. While cars, aircraft, houses, and furniture have changed only moderately in their capabilities and costs, DNA and microelectronic technologies have exploded, expanding their basic capabilities by factors of more than a billion. The developments leading to molecular manufacturing are of a similar sort and will share this dynamism. Past a certain threshold, however, these developments will burst forth from the microworld to transform technologies on a human and even planetary scale. No realistic view of the future can omit this prospect.
Indeed. I like to re-read Engines of Creation every few years, and am always left inspired. It may be time to dig in again.
While the download is free, a relatively long registration process is required, including a question on race(!). One must also promise to “work hard and make the world a better place.” If the question on race annoys you as much as it did me, send WOWIO a comment, as I did. Enough of those and they will stop making this a required field.
UPDATE: The publisher has now stopped requiring all but two fields, they report. See the comments for their email to me about this. —Christine