inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #51 of 133: Andrew Alden (alden) Fri 6 Jun 03 10:25
I share Cynthia's question about space materials, but let me put it in more
general terms. The physics of nanotech is exciting in itself. I don't know
if it's a spinoff from the microprocessor/magnetic storage/other-hi-tech
sector or whether fundamental research directly underlies it, but just as
learning the genetic code is revolutionizing medicine, learning the
nanoscopic code of metals and ceramics and catalysts promises to
revolutionize what we can do with materials in general.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #52 of 133: Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Fri 6 Jun 03 12:14
It has the potential to be as much of a revolution in physics as the theory of
relativity was, if I understand this right. 

The question that has been on my mind a lot recently is *time scale*,
especially how it relatees to industry. With modern technology, we're
used to things that keep happening smaller and *faster*. Build things
in a week, a day, an hour, minutes. And then, expect them to wear out
in a week, a month, a year. But biological assemblers are *slow*,
probably because they are so many huge orders of magnitude more
complex. How many weeks does it take a frog to regrow a bone? It takes
cancer months or years to grow inside the body. A molecularly
engineered cure for cancer might take the same time frame. Or perhaps
not even be a *cure*, just some sort of balancer that keeps the cancer
growth in check. 

(and I know we're piling up questions, Bill!) 
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #53 of 133: Bruce Koball (bkoball) Fri 6 Jun 03 13:23
and here's another question for the pile, Bill...

where, in your view, does nanotechnology begin? That is, how and where
do you draw the line between existing technologies like microchip
manufacturing and micromachining, using photolithographic techniques,
and what you see as "nanotechnology." 

The current International Technology Roadmap for Semiconductors
describes a path from the current leading/bleeding edge 120nm and 90nm
technology nodes down to to nodes at 65nm, 45nm, 32nm and 22nm, using
extensions of existing photomask techniques.

Yes, these are still essentially bulk processes, but they are producing
component features of nanometer dimensions; indeed, the thickness of gate
oxides may be measured in atoms. And some of the biologically-inspired
composite "nanotech" materials you mention above are essentailly bulk

So, how are you defining "nanotechnology?" 
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #54 of 133: Erin (jonl) Sat 7 Jun 03 13:31
Email from Erin:

Hello again, a review of Nanocosm can be found here: 

Mister Atkins, a very important point is raised by this review, it appears
that you rely on alot of personal ad hominem style attacks against Eric
Drexler rather than truly being able to refute his claims about molecular
assembler theory. In addition, the claims of Dr. Richard Smalley have been
answered here:

Overall I tend to think that both you and Drexler are correct, in that
Drexler's Nanosystems style nanoelectromechanical robotics are very
possible and in some form will be built, and, your favored cellular
automata nano systems could also be developed.

I was intrigued at the discussions you had regarding nanocomposite
ceramics, this would finally allow us to have knife-quality ceramic blades
for cutlery that are very resistant to chipping and shattering, at least
as good as metal!

inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #55 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Sat 7 Jun 03 17:53
Cynthia: Nanotech could do this, yes. Using silicon (not as a
semiconductor, but as an element able to support super-smooth molded
surfaces) nanotech could easily give us, with today's technology, a
Shuttle tile system so smooth that the craft could slip through the
atmosphere generating almost no heat. Unfortunatley, this would be as
ounterproductive as any brake system that generated no heat. Generating
heat is a brake system's raison d'etre - that is, a brake system
exists to covert kinetic energy into thermal energy, which can then be
radiated away into the surrounding medium. Having super-slippery
Shuttle tiles would be like pouring oil on your car's disk brakes: less
heat would be generated, and your vehicle would by that amount be less
slowed. The tiles make the Shuttle its own brake, converting its
immense kinetic energy (c.18,000 mph, c.Mach 25) into heat. This
reduces the Shuttle's velocity to the point where it can land.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #56 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Sat 7 Jun 03 18:04
Erin: I dispute that all objections to the Drexlerian nanoassembler
have been answered. If this were the case, we would already have seen
the invention. But we have not. Therefore not all objections have been
answered. As memory serves, the formal logical procedure is called
Modus tolens: if A then B; Not B; therefore not A.

One could multiply arguments ad infinitum, but the essence of any
debate is this: thesis-antithesis-synthesis. In the present instance,
two of these three elements have already been made. Thesis (Drexler):
The nanoassembler is both possible and inevitable. Antithesis (Smalley,
Atkinson et al.): Balls: prove it! 

So. The only synthesis, i.e. the only allowable counter-argument to
all this, is for Drexler and his supporters to actually produce a
nanoassembler. The day, nay the hour, this is done, and the
nanoassembler is shown operating in microsecond-interval AFM images,
then (and only then) will I admit the Drexlerian view has triumphed.

Unless and until this occurs, I and my fellow skeptics must be
permitted our skepticism. Mr Drexler and his followers do not need to
convince me, or the U.S. Supreme Court, or any other audience. They
need to convince Mother Nature. And she is a far tougher judge than I.
Put up or shut up, is her motto. And in this I concur.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #57 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Sat 7 Jun 03 18:24

While the nanoassembler is still in question the Drexler nanomechical
computer does have predecessors going back 150 years. Most recently,
the Thinkertoy computer, now in a Boston museum, serves as the basis for
mechanical logic computing at the nanoscale level.

Also, I would be cautious about the logic that concludes with "we would
already have seen the invention." One might find that the government has
classified such information since it could be quite revolutionary. I'm
not saying it has, but you're dealing with a bunch of smart people who
like to have lifetime jobs before they enter the chosen frozen phase.

In the land of the blind the one-eyed jack is king.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #58 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Sun 8 Jun 03 07:58
Airman: Oddly enough, I've recently heard a conspiracy theory about
Drexlerianism from the opposite point of view. Say, for instance, that
the US Government wanted other countries to go off on a wild
goose-chase, leaving the productive nanotech to the USA. What better
way to lead 'em all astray than with that will-o'-the-wisp, the
molecular assembler..? 

Silly, of course. As a high-tech CEO once said to me, Why invent
conspiracies when it's far simpler to attribute things to oversight,
arrogance, or stupidity? So it's about as likely that the CIA has
perfected the M-A and is sitting on it, as it is that General Motors
once bought up the patent to the 300-mpg carburettor only to suppress
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #59 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Sun 8 Jun 03 08:08
Erin: Further to your comment of yesterday...Sorry I didn't get back
to you for so long, it was my 17th anniversary on the 7th and I was
proving my commitment to the marriage by assembling our new barbecue.
Three hours it took me, sweating out impossible directions supplied by
a technician who couldn't write and an artist who hadn't discovered
perspective. Why, I kept wondering, do BBQs come  as bags of parts? We
wouldn't put up with cars, fridges or computers packaged and shipped
like this, and then dumped on our doorsteps with bad assembly manuals.
Odd. Puts me in mind of the greatest BBQ I ever attended, at the
world's longest oyster bar in Port Canaveral, in 1982; but that's
another story...

Yes, I probably am being too hard on Mr Drexler. But part of the
book's intent, perhaps its main intent, is to establish in the mind of
the average citizen what nanotech really is; what it may reasonably be
expected to become; and what is (today at least, and maybe forever)
science fiction. As recently as a few months ago, and possibly still,
nanotechnology to most people meant Star-Trekkian notions. I wanted to
bring 'em to Earth, fast. One day, despite all the grumblings of us
grumpy skeptics, the molecular assembler may appear. Anything's
possible, I suppose; as Arthur C. Clarke says, sufficiently advanced
technology is indistinguishable from magic. But here: now: or soon: no.
Real-world nanotech is far more interesting, and also far more
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #60 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Sun 8 Jun 03 08:24
Betsy: interesting question about time scale! I'd thought about time
scale of technological innovation and implementation, not in terms of
how fast the new inventions might work. But yes - why not adjust our
medical interventions toward the body's rhythms, most of which are
slower? Not only does cancer (usually, thankk God) take a long time to
grow; in fact everyone is constantly getting the disease. That's why
parts of our genome encode for natural anti-cancer drugs such as TNF,
referred to above. Usually there's an equilibrium that sees newly
appearing neoplastic cells identified, attacked and destroyed. One
method of this is for the body to switch on a suicide circuit in the
cancer cell, ordering it to commit seppuku. 

Bio-nano could fit into such longer-scale processes very neatly. Of
course, to do so we'll have to learn more about how the body works,
rather than just trying to rush in with a bagful of miracle chemicals.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #61 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Sun 8 Jun 03 08:33
Bruce: The definition of nanotechnology now coming to be generally
accepted is that it extends from an upper limit of 90-100 nm (the point
at which the confined electron starts behaving more like a wave than
like a particle) and a lower limit of 0.1 nm, or 100 picometers, or 1

Molecular beam epitaxy, or mask photolithography / etching using
ultra-short wavelengths (e.g. produced from synchrotron light
sources)today routinely develops features c.80 nm in size and lower, as
you note. One could say we first crashed into the nanocosm via the
microcosm -- rapelling lower down into the well, so to speak. Some of
the most successful of the new nanotech firms now springing up
recognize and use this approach, which one of them (Micralyne) calls
"two steps to the nanocosm." 
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #62 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Sun 8 Jun 03 08:35
Erin: A further note. Yes, ceramic knifeblades may soon appear.
Another possibility is a blade made from super-small, super-regular
crystals of a metal such as nickel, which scientists at Integran
Technologies have persuaded to self-assemble using what Dr George
Sawatzky calls forced-crystal techniques. Integran metals are free of
the usual cracks, voids, inclusions and dislocations that limit metals'
strength. Thus these materials amazingly tough, strong, and
shatter-resistant. The never-sharpen knife you buy in 2006 might well
be made from such a material.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #63 of 133: Betsy Schwartz (betsys) Sun 8 Jun 03 09:02
IF I understand this correctly, the thinkertoy computer doesn't act as
proof of concept for the nanocomputer, because the laws of physics
work differently at the atomic scale. Things are *sticky* at that level. 

Another question, which appears in Nanocosm in the form of a lecture
from one of IBM's principle think-tank scientists, Thomas Theis, is
whether nano-computers will be digital, binary, 2-dimentional. Today's
3-D chipps are essentially 2-dimensional, also, made of layers of
2-dimensional circuit boards strapped together, in turn made of
digital on/off logic circuits. But biological computers are analog and
multidimentional; the neurons in a brain connect to many other neurons
in non-linear ways. And we are capable of making extremely quick
decisions on matters that a computer needs thousands of rules to spell
out; we can recognize a familiar face in a fraction of a second, or
tell a male face from a female face most of the time. 

At any rate, we are very very far from the nanomachine. As far as I
know, researchers have moved individual atoms (taking weeks to do
so)but have built no ground-up structures. We're learning how to build
crystals, or layers of similarly behaving atoms, but not gears or rotors.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #64 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Sun 8 Jun 03 14:42
Who needs a 300 hp carb when the money is in building a 40 mpg car?

One only needs to read a good biochemistry book to recognize that all
sorts of forces some into play at the nanotechnology level. At least 9
just from biochemistry alone. In addition, there are quantum effects
that will need to be taken into account as well as revision of the
current electon model which serves well at the molecular bond level but
not necessarily in the free electron or ion modes.

The difficulty that I have is that nanotechnology promises an awful lot,
but when you sit down to do a project assuming the technology even
exists outside the laboratory, all sorts of intermediate steps crop up
that may not have made it out of the lab let alone off the drawing
board and in some cases barely out of a stream of conscious of some
brilliantly lucid individual.

I prefer the drunk. There was an analog chip designer, Widlar, who could
not design when sober. Eventually, his startup company moved him to
Mexico where he continued to design in semilucid states 3-D power
structures for the analog market.

The drunk is also willing to be rather blunt in most cases about what is
and what isn't a good design saving time. The sober person is usually
jockeying for position on the corporate ladder instead of marching to a
different drummer.

However, to make money the preference is for a sober CPA who will tell
you what you need to know, not what you want to hear. Let the numbers

and the numbers from nanotechnology don't say much.

More of the same stuff - sharper this, faster this, but no real
breakthrough technology that will affect everyone. Just more
improvements to the stuff we have already done and junk we already have.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #65 of 133: The best of all possible acid trips (tinymonster) Sun 8 Jun 03 15:00
Widlar, the Drunken Master.  heh
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #66 of 133: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Sun 8 Jun 03 17:33
I have no idea whether future computers will be constructed using
analog or quantum or 3D techniques.  But I'd be willing to bet that the
ones with the most market share will be x86 compatible.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #67 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Sun 8 Jun 03 21:42
Betsy: Sitting in the audience when Tom Theis gave that lecture in San
Jose was riveting. He used no notes or slides, and he obviously hadn't
memorized a text, so this was from the soul: a cri de coeur. And
for'ard tho' he couldna see, he guessed an' feared. It was evident to
him that the old way, viz. the original von Neumann paradigm, was about
to hit a wall, or had hit one already. Digital, linear, magnetic
storage: all these IBM staples were up against it. So the Thinkertoy,
which Drexler praises in such tomes as Nanosystems (1992), won't cut
it. This is even assuming that stiction, quantum effects, and other
bizarre aspects of the nanocosm even permit such an apparatus to exist
and function. The thinkertoy ain't the future: it's the distant past.
You may as well scratch equations in the sand with a pointed stick.

Tom was practically gritting his teeth when he said that a complex,
self-assembling, behavior-displaying organism like a paramecium could
be completely specified in a volume smaller than a pinprick. It's
routine for nature, but so far beyond our best shot now that we hardly
know where to find the ballpark. So that's the way we have to go.

Interestingly, nanoscale gears and rotors do natural
systems! The rotaxanes (motors) and catenanes (interlocking rings)
provide a template for the biomimetically minded. But these simple
machines will not, I think, be the model for computation, let alone for
the fabulously greater task of constructing a nanoassembler. 
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #68 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Sun 8 Jun 03 21:43
Brian: What a wry, accurate observation. "The world is too much with
us; getting and spending..." 
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #69 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Sun 8 Jun 03 21:56
Airman & Tinymonster: Apologies if this entry is duplicated; system
seems to have eaten it, but it may crop up again. Gist of it: The early
days of any new technology are full of outrageous acts by experts who
know they can't be sacked because their knowledge is irreplaceable. In
a secret base in WWII in Britain, one such team was working on a
top-secret radar project. Winston Churchill himself decided to drop in
on them unannounced to check their progress; he knew he'd be
recognized. As he walked into a lab one of the radar workers said: "Hey
fats! Get the f__k out'a here, we got a deadline." And yes, they
recognized him.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #70 of 133: Where's the Flying Car (airman) Sun 8 Jun 03 22:10

In a way, Drexler is that necessary evil. If you get rid of him,
nanotechnology might not be a cohesive effort. Think of him as a
cheerleader instead of an irreplaceable engineer.

How irreplaceable is a cheerleader?

I dunno but George W. was also a cheerleader and still might be.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #71 of 133: FROM ERINCSS: (tnf) Mon 9 Jun 03 09:09

Thius is from an off-WELL reader, erincss:

Thanks for the reply to some of the points I raised Bill. I tend to agree
that a general-purpose molecular nano fabrication system, able to build any
three dimensional structure according to software control and basic
atomic/molecular inputs, will definitely be far more difficult than nearer
term nanotechnology systems. Some questions I have for you, though. According
to the interesting sections of your book dealing with "nanocatalysts", do you
believe that simpler forms of molecular-level machines, say limited to
producing large three dimensional solid parts made from one or a few types of
elements (ie like diamond/fullerene structures), would be developed in the
near term?

It would be a strange twist of events if by the time a true Drexler-type
assembler system was developed, we had learned enough about quantum
entanglement, to use it as a means of fabrication (perhaps that could lead to
the Picocosm you hinted at? ;))

Again I am very interested in Cellular Automata as a means to build systems
able to manipulate molecular matter. What are some of the stumbling blocks
and the developments in CA that need to be achieved before the nano ca
devices you mentioned of in Nanocosm, could come to be? I am attracted to
both the benefits and the dangers of the diamondoid ca devices that could
simply be told to "transform all bonds to C-C covalents", and turn it loose
on a vat of carbon material.

The science fiction book "Bloom" my Will McCarthy (author of The Collapsium)
deals with CA nanosystems "going wild".

Those forced-alloy crystal metals would certainly make excellent blade
materials, armor materials and more! That gets me thinking of a "duranium
metal alloy" type of thing.

Take care
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #72 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 9 Jun 03 10:09
Hi, Erin! For "duranium", see my response #62. This will be a
near-term innovation: 2-4 years, I would think, for commercial

Concerning your first para, the answer's definitely yes. Neil Branda
and other nanochemists (if the term isn't a redundancy) are already hot
on the trail of reaction-specific nanocatalysts - synthetic single
molecules that switch one, and only one, chemical reaction on or off at
command. These are what I call dumbots, for dumb (single-minded)

As for quantum effects offering a means to that mythical,
omni-catalytic nano-assembler beloved of KED and other sci-fi writers:
I can't say why not. The whole point of doing original research into
the nanocosm is that we have no idea a priori what wild animals we're
going to find in that jungle. The head of a large R&D agency I knew,
used to say that any lab work that knew what it was going to uncover in
advance didn't merit the name of research.

I presented CA systems, and adduced my belief that they might let us
do things on the nanoscale, based solely on some elementary
mathematical concepts. In fact if I have any regrets about that chapter
it's that I kept the exegesis too simple, and didn't introduce some of
the wonderful patterns and possibilities of multidimensional CA
systems. The CA is a solution, perhaps THE solution, both to problems
we have and to other problems we have yet to bark our shins on. How
these various CA systems might be applied, I cannot detail. Perhaps Dr
Wolfram could offer some suggestions. 
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #73 of 133: Brian Slesinsky (bslesins) Mon 9 Jun 03 10:38
Re: visionaries, maybe the kind of "vision" that's truly useful
depends on what stage the field is in.  A hand-waving visionary can get
a lot of people thinking about an otherwise neglected field in the
early stages, and realism doesn't matter so much when so little is
known.  But once some significant work is done and we really start to
understand how things work, wild speculation is a bug, not a feature.
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #74 of 133: Cynthia Dyer-Bennet (cdb) Mon 9 Jun 03 12:24
Thanks for the answer to my question about the Space Shuttle, Bill. But now
you have me curious about this:

> Puts me in mind of the greatest BBQ I ever attended, at the
>  world's longest oyster bar in Port Canaveral, in 1982; but that's
>  another story...

I know this might be a tangent, but hey, you got me wondering about oysters
and Port Canaveral. What IS the story behind that? I know you used to cover
the Space program as a journalist of some kind, so what's the juice behind
your tempting little teaser?
inkwell.vue.184 : William Illsey Atkinson, _Nanocosm_
permalink #75 of 133: William Illsey (Bill) Atkinson (wiatkinson) Mon 9 Jun 03 16:02
Brian: Absolutely. Molecular manufacturing has gone from the feature
stage to the bug stage in about the last eighteen months. Time for
reality to take over now.


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