K. Eric Drexler, Ph.D., is a researcher and author whose work focuses on advanced nanotechnologies and directions for current research. His 1981 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences established fundamental principles of molecular design, protein engineering, and productive nanosystems. Drexler’s research in this field has been the basis for numerous journal articles and for books including Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology (written for a general audience) and Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation (a quantitative, physics-based analysis). He recently served as Chief Technical Consultant to the Technology Roadmap for Productive Nanosystems, a project of the Battelle Memorial Institute and its participating US National Laboratories. He is currently working in a collaboration with the World Wildlife Fund to explore nanotechnology-based solutions to global problems such as energy and climate change.
Drexler was awarded a PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Molecular Nanotechnology (the first degree of its kind; his dissertation was a draft of Nanosystems). Dr. Drexler is currently (2012) an academic visitor at Oxford University. He consults and speaks on how current research can be directed more effectively toward high-payoff objectives, and addresses the implications of emerging technologies for our future, including their use to solve, rather than delay, large-scale problems such as global warming.
- Eric Drexler's official website
- Eric Drexler's Wikipedia page
- Video lecture: Physical Law and the Future of Nanotechnology
- Wired article about Eric Drexler: The Incredible Shrinking Man
Eric Drexler Quotes
Any powerful technology can be abused.
In thinking about nanotechnology today, what's most important is understanding where it leads, what nanotechnology will look like after we reach the assembler breakthrough.
...and that because the moving parts are a million times smaller than the ones we're familiar with, they move a million times faster, just as a smaller tuning fork produces a higher pitch than a large one.
I had been impressed by the fact that biological systems were based on molecular machines and that we were learning to design and build these sorts of things.
I've encountered a lot of people who sound like critics but very few who have substantive criticisms. There is a lot of skepticism, but it seems to be more a matter of inertia than it is of people having some real reason for thinking something else.
The other advantage is that in conventional manufacturing processes, it takes a long time for a factory to produce an amount of product equal to its own weight. With molecular machines, the time required would be something more like a minute.
If you take all the factories in the world today, they could make all the parts necessary to build more factories like themselves. So, in a sense, we have a self-replicating industrial system today, but it would take a tremendous effort to copy what we already have.
The really big difference is that what you make with a molecular machine can be completely precise, down to the tiniest degree of detail that can exist in the world.
Today we have big, crude instruments guided by intelligent surgeons, and we have little, stupid molecules of drugs that get dumped into the body, diffuse around and interfere with things as best they can. At present, medicine is unable to heal anything.
My greatest concern is that the emergence of this technology without the appropriate public attention and international controls could lead to an unstable arms race.
The basic parts, the start-up molecules, can be supplied in abundance and don't have to be made by some elaborate process. That immediately makes things simpler.
On the molecular scale, you find it's reasonable to have a machine that does a million steps per second, a mechanical system that works at computer speeds.
Protein engineering is a technology of molecular machines—of molecular machines that are part of replicators—and so it comes from an area that already raises some of the issues that nanotechnology will raise.
After realizing that we would eventually be able to build molecular machines that could arrange atoms to form virtually any pattern that we wanted, I saw that an awful lot of consequences followed from that.