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Current Results of Our Research

These pages, marked with GREEN headings, are published for comment and criticism. These are not our final findings; some of these opinions will probably change.   LOG OF UPDATES 

CRN Research: Overview of Current Findings   

bulletTimeline for Molecular Manufacturing   
bulletProducts of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletBenefits of Molecular Manufacturing
bulletDangers of Molecular Manufacturing  
bulletNo Simple Solutions
bulletAdministration Options
bulletThe Need for Early Development
bulletThe Need for International Development
bulletThirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies
bulletStudy #4     YOU ARE HERE

Thirty Essential Nanotechnology Studies - #4

Overview of all studies: Because of the largely unexpected transformational power of molecular manufacturing, it is urgent to understand the issues raised. To date, there has not been anything approaching an adequate study of these issues. CRN's recommended series of thirty essential studies is organized into five sections, covering fundamental theory, possible technological capabilities, bootstrapping potential, product capabilities, and policy questions. Several preliminary conclusions are stated, and because our understanding points to a crisis, a parallel process of conducting the studies is urged. 

CRN is actively looking for researchers interested in performing or assisting with this work. Please contact CRN Research Director Chris Phoenix if you would like more information or if you have comments on the proposed studies.

Study #4 What is the performance and potential of biological programmable manufacturing and products?
  Biology has been making complex molecules and structures for billions of years, and self-replicators already exist and produce cheap valuable products. Can this be harnessed to produce engineered products?
Subquestion Can the rules of protein folding and self-assembly be accessed to design novel proteins, structures, and machines?
Preliminary answer Progress is preliminary, but encouraging. A new protein fold has been designed and tested. In "Molecular engineering: An approach to the development of general capabilities for molecular manipulation" (PNAS, 78(9), Sept. 1981), Drexler pointed out that protein engineering should be much easier than solving the protein folding problem for natural proteins.
Subquestion Can intracellular transport mechanisms be adapted to increase the programmability of part assembly?
Preliminary answer Biological motors have been extracted from cells and made to run. Programmability would depend on whether some way other than diffusing chemicals could be found to power them.
Subquestion How efficiently can new genetic specifications be synthesized and transferred into cells?
Preliminary answer Progress is being made... Study the cost per nucleotide vs. time. Also look at plasmid and artificial chromosome development.
Subquestion Can the rules of multicellular structure formation (analogous to ontology or cellular specialization) be accessed to design larger products?
Preliminary answer Good question. MIT work on amorphous computing may be relevant.
Subquestion What would be the performance of engineered systems based on biological materials, with or without augmented biochemistry?
Preliminary answer Strength: perhaps comparable to modern polymers. Computation: with augmented chemistry, could include molecular electronics. This depends largely on covalent bond density.
Subquestion What would be the production speed of a biology-based manufacturing system?
Preliminary answer Unknown.
Subquestion What is the smallest size (genome and physical) of a viable cell?
Preliminary answer Unknown.
Subquestion Can extracellular protein synthesis systems improve any of these answers?
Preliminary answer Unknown.
Conclusion More research will be needed to tell whether this technology can be revolutionary, but it looks promising so far.
Other studies 1. Is mechanically guided chemistry a viable basis for a manufacturing technology?
2. To what extent is molecular manufacturing counterintuitive and underappreciated in a way that causes underestimation of its importance?
What is the performance and potential of diamondoid machine-phase chemical manufacturing and products?
5. What is the performance and potential of nucleic acid manufacturing and products?
6. What other chemistries and options should be studied?
What applicable sensing, manipulation, and fabrication tools exist?
8. What will be required to develop diamondoid machine-phase chemical manufacturing and products?
9. What will be required to develop biological programmable manufacturing and products?
10. What will be required to develop nucleic acid manufacturing and products?
11. How rapidly will the cost of development decrease?
12. How could an effective development program be structured?
What is the probable capability of the manufacturing system?
14. How capable will the products be?
15. What will the products cost?
16. How rapidly could products be designed?
Which of today's products will the system make more accessible or cheaper?
18. What new products will the system make accessible?
19. What impact will the system have on production and distribution?
20. What effect will molecular manufacturing have on military and government capability and planning, considering the implications of arms races and unbalanced development?
21. What effect will this have on macro- and microeconomics?
22. How can proliferation and use of nanofactories and their products be limited?
23. What effect will this have on policing?
24. What beneficial or desirable effects could this have?
25. What effect could this have on civil rights and liberties?
26. What are the disaster/disruption scenarios?
27. What effect could this have on geopolitics?
28. What policies toward development of molecular manufacturing does all this suggest?
29. What policies toward administration of molecular manufacturing does all this suggest?
30. How can appropriate policy be made and implemented?
Studies should begin immediately. The situation is extremely urgent. The stakes are unprecedented, and the world is unprepared. The basic findings of these studies should be verified as rapidly as possible (months, not years). Policy preparation and planning for implementation, likely including a crash development program, should begin immediately.

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