K. Eric Drexler
|K. Eric Drexler|
Eric Drexler in 2013
April 25, 1955 |
Alameda, California, U.S.
|Fields||Engineering, molecular nanotechnology|
|Alma mater||Massachusetts Institute of Technology|
|Thesis||Molecular Machinery and Manufacturing With Applications to Computation (1991)|
|Doctoral advisor||Marvin Minsky|
Kim Eric Drexler (born April 25, 1955) is an American engineer best known for popularizing the potential of molecular nanotechnology (MNT), from the 1970s and 1980s. His 1991 doctoral thesis at Massachusetts Institute of Technology was revised and published as the book Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery Manufacturing and Computation (1992), which received the Association of American Publishers award for Best Computer Science Book of 1992.
Life and work
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K. Eric Drexler was strongly influenced by ideas on Limits to Growth in the early 1970s. His response in his first year at Massachusetts Institute of Technology was to seek out someone who was working on extraterrestrial resources. He found Gerard K. O'Neill of Princeton University, a physicist famous for his work on storage rings for particle accelerators and his landmark work on the concepts of space colonization.
Drexler participated in NASA summer studies on space colonies in 1975 and 1976. He fabricated metal films a few tens of nanometers thick on a wax support to demonstrate the potentials of high performance solar sails. He was active in space politics, helping the L5 Society defeat the Moon Treaty in 1980.
Besides working summers for O'Neill building mass driver prototypes, Drexler delivered papers at the first three Space Manufacturing conferences at Princeton. The 1977 and 1979 papers were co-authored with Keith Henson, and patents were issued on both subjects, vapor phase fabrication and space radiators.
During the late 1970s, Drexler began to develop ideas about molecular nanotechnology (MNT). In 1979, he encountered Richard Feynman's provocative 1959 talk There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom. The term "nano-technology" had been coined by the Tokyo Science University professor Norio Taniguchi in 1974 to describe the precision manufacture of materials with nanometer tolerances, and Drexler unknowingly used a related term in his 1986 book Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology to describe what later became known as molecular nanotechnology (MNT). In that book, he proposed the idea of a nanoscale "assembler" which would be able to build a copy of itself and of other items of arbitrary complexity. He also first published the term "grey goo" to describe what might happen if a hypothetical self-replicating molecular nanotechnology went out of control. He has subsequently tried to clarify his concerns about out-of-control self-replicators, and make the case that molecular manufacturing does not require such devices.
Drexler holds three degrees from MIT. He received his B.S. in Interdisciplinary Sciences in 1977 and his M.S. in 1979 in Astro/Aerospace Engineering with a Master's thesis titled "Design of a High Performance Solar Sail System." In 1991 he earned a Ph.D. under the auspices of the MIT Media Lab (formally, the Media Arts and Sciences Section, School of Architecture and Planning). His Ph.D. work was the first doctoral degree on the topic of molecular nanotechnology and his thesis, "Molecular Machinery and Manufacturing with Applications to Computation," was published (with minor editing) as Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing and Computation (1992), which received the Association of American Publishers award for Best Computer Science Book of 1992.
Drexler and Christine Peterson, at that time husband and wife, founded the Foresight Institute in 1986 with the mission of "Preparing for nanotechnology.” Drexler and Peterson ended their 21-year marriage in 2002. Drexler is no longer a member of the Foresight Institute.
In August 2005 Drexler joined Nanorex, a molecular engineering software company based in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan, to serve as the company's Chief Technical Advisor. Nanorex's nanoENGINEER-1 software was reportedly able to simulate a hypothetical differential gear design in "a snap".
In 2006, Drexler married Rosa Wang, a former investment banker who works with Ashoka: Innovators for the Public on improving the social capital markets.
Drexler's work on nanotechnology was criticized as naive by Nobel Prize winner Richard Smalley in a 2001 Scientific American article. Smalley first argued that "fat fingers" made MNT impossible. He later argued that nanomachines would have to resemble chemical enzymes more than Drexler's assemblers and could only work in water. Drexler maintained that both were straw man arguments, and in the case of enzymes, wrote that "Prof. Klibanov wrote in 1994, '... using an enzyme in organic solvents eliminates several obstacles ...'" Drexler had difficulty in getting Smalley to respond, but in December 2003, Chemical and Engineering news carried a four-part debate. Ray Kurzweil disputes Smalley's arguments.
The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, in its 2006 review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative, argues that it is difficult to predict the future capabilities of nanotechnology:
Although theoretical calculations can be made today, the eventually attainable range of chemical reaction cycles, error rates, speed of operation, and thermodynamic efficiencies of such bottom-up manufacturing systems cannot be reliably predicted at this time. Thus, the eventually attainable perfection and complexity of manufactured products, while they can be calculated in theory, cannot be predicted with confidence. Finally, the optimum research paths that might lead to systems which greatly exceed the thermodynamic efficiencies and other capabilities of biological systems cannot be reliably predicted at this time. Research funding that is based on the ability of investigators to produce experimental demonstrations that link to abstract models and guide long-term vision is most appropriate to achieve this goal.
In science fiction
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Drexler is also mentioned in the science fiction book Decipher by Stel Pavlou; his book is mentioned as one of the starting points of the nanomachine construction, as well as giving a better understanding of the way carbon 60 was to be applied.
James Rollins references Drexler's Engines of Creation in his novel Excavation, using his theory of a molecular machine in two sections as a possible explanation for the mysterious "Substance Z" in the story.
Drexler is mentioned in Doom Patrol #57.
- Engines of Creation (1986)
- Available online at e-drexler.com
- Available online in Russian as МАШИНЫ СОЗДАНИЯ: Грядущая эра нанотехнологии
- Available online in Chinese as 创造的发动机
- Available online in Italian as MOTORI DI CREAZIONE: L’era prossima della nanotecnologia
- The Canvas of the Night (1990), (ar) Project Solar Sail, ed. Arthur C. Clarke, NAL/Roc (ISBN 0451450027) Science Fiction.
- Unbounding the Future (1991; with Christine Peterson and Gayle Pergamit) (ISBN 0-688-12573-5)
- Available online with free download at Unbounding the Future: the Nanotechnology Revolution
- Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery Manufacturing and Computation (1992)
- Engines of Creation 2.0: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology - Updated and Expanded, K. Eric Drexler, 647 pages, (February 2007)
- Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization, May 7, 2013, ISBN 1610391136
- Chemical vapor deposition, a type of "vapor phase fabrication"
- Robert Freitas - nanomedicine advocate
- Giles, Jim (2004). "Nanotech takes small step towards burying 'grey goo'". Nature. 429 (6992): 591. doi:10.1038/429591b. PMID 15190320.
- "Scientists' Open Letter on Cryonics".
- "Nanotechnology: Of Chemistry, Nanobots, and Policy". Crnano.org. Retrieved 2012-07-17.
- "C&En: Cover Story - Nanotechnology". Pubs.acs.org. 2003-12-01. Retrieved 2012-07-17.
- Ray Kurzweil, The Singularity Is Near, 2005
- Committee to Review the National Nanotechnology Initiative (2006). A Matter of Size: Triennial Review of the National Nanotechnology Initiative. Washington, DC: National Academies of Science. p. 108. ISBN 978-0-309-10223-0. Retrieved 30 May 2016.
- "The Creator": Interview with Eric Drexler by Michael Berry, 1991
- Nano: The Emerging Science of Nanotechnology by Ed Regis, 1995. ISBN 0-316-73852-2
- "The Incredible Shrinking World of Eric Drexler": Red Herring Interview by Anthony B. Perkins August 1, 1995
- "The Incredible Shrinking Man: K. Eric Drexler was the godfather of nanotechnology. But the MIT prodigy who dreamed up molecular machines was shoved aside by big science - and now he's an industry outcast." Ed Regis, Wired Magazine, Issue 12.10, October 2004
- Great Mambo Chicken and the Transhuman Condition by Ed Regis, 1990. ISBN 0-201-56751-2
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