One of the main reasons that we are confident in the overall predictions of molecular manufacturing is that there are many pathways to it from current technology and using currently understood science. It is thus something of a milestone that we have arrived at a fork in the road about which there is room for disagreement about which path to take. The point at issue is diamondoid mechanosynthesis (DMS).
Eric Drexler has posted an essay in which he points out that he favors a pathway that leverages the capabilities of biochemistry and solution chemistry. He notes that he has always considered diamondoid mechanosynthesis a hard problem and a capability for advanced nanotech, not an early pathway.
Robert Freitas and Ralph Merkle are championing the direct DMS route. To extend the roadmap analogy, one could say that the solution-chemistry path is the long, winding river road and the DMS approach is the shortcut through the treacherous mountain passes.
Which is right? My own opinion is that this is the wrong question. There are many paths to productive nanosystems, and trying all of them is none too big an investment in our future. In the meantime, the more of a debate that develops between alternatives, the more the technical issues will be discussed and the more hitherto un-thought-of alternative pathways will be explored.
The first stage of the public conversation about a new technology, the debate is over whether heavier-than-air machines can fly. In the second stage, it’s over things like biplanes vs monoplanes.
Welcome to the second stage.
(Hat-tip to Next Big Future)