which consigns Joy to the realms of science fiction which of
us would not applaud? Freitas' article is 30 pages long and contains
a lot of complex sums. But the point of these computations is not to
tell us whether or not atomic nanorobots are feasible. Instead, they
tell us how to read the tell-tale signs of rampant robotic procreation
and what can be done to stop it. Freitas tells us how we can use global
warming to measure the spread of nanorobots. He also calculates the
energy consumption of all the insects and all the birds on the Earth.
His paper has already been presented to the U.S. authorities responsible
for President Clinton's nanotechnology initiative. It is an advisory
paper intended for politicians.
is extraordinary about this scientific debate is that both Joy and Freitas
are talking about a technology which is so far in the future that even
the word infancy would be premature. Yet both are convinced Joy
with grave concern and Freitas full of hope that it will dominate
the next great industrial revolution.
a man not even 40, was commissioned by NASA to conduct an extensive
study of self-replicating systems for long-distance space travel. He
has just published the first volume of his "Nanomedicine," another science
which doesn't yet exist but is nevertheless described in great detail.
He is a quiet and unassuming scientist, whose patrons include the 1996
Nobel laureate in chemistry, Richard E. Smalley. It was Smalley's own
paper on "Nanotechnology and the Next 50 Years" which helped establish
nanotechnology as a serious new branch of science. Ray Kurzweil and
Ralph Merkle are also among those who find it difficult to dismiss Freitas
as a dreamer. "We've got to learn," Smalley said in his paper, "how
to build machines, materials, and devices with the ultimate finesse
that life has always used: atom by atom, on the same nanometer scale
as the machinery in living cells." To which Freitas responds, "This
is something we will learn."