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Merkle on nanotech at Singularity University

Ted Greenwald posted yesterday at Wired about Foresight member Ralph Merkle’s presentation on nanotechnology at the Singularity University’s first Executive Program, which has just convened over at NASA Ames here in Silicon Valley:

From there he skims through a catalog of progress — familiar example of pushing atoms into IBM logos and such on a 2D grid — to the goal of 3D shapes, and ultimately nanoscale machines. It doesn’t always work. “You’re not seeing the failures,” he allows, and describes a planetary gear he built that was just too slippery to hold together. “There’s no friction at that scale.” Moreover, that style of assembly is one atom at a time — very resource-intensive. A better solution is self assembly, along the line of, say, a redwood tree — a huge structure self-assembled by nanomachinery. If we can accomplish that, “manufacturing costs will go through the floor.” Products of nanomachinery will be as cheap as potatoes.

The notion that nanotech will provide new materials with superior strength-to-weight characteristics or other cool properties is familiar. Eye-opening proposals: Respirocytes (carry oxygen in the bloodstream so you can hold your breath for an hour), microbivores (eliminate diseases more rapidly than they body’s own system), chromallocytes (removes chromosomes in a cell and replaces them with a new set). Finally, Merkle sketches out a single-stage-to-orbit vehicle made of specific (theoretical) nanomaterials that apparently has been designed by someone in a published paper, name and title I didn’t catch. Bottom line: It could transport four passengers into space for a few thousand dollars.

Other topics include artificial intelligence, robotics, networking, computing, and quantum computing.  —Chris Peterson

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