APM related terms

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A collection of terminology usage guideline proposals.
(TODO: make a wiki template for terminology entries and move headline hierarchy down)

Why terminology is of paramount importance

By striving for good terminology one gains more efficient communication. This makes life easier and chances for success greater.

Effects of good terminology:

  • from what the speaker says listener understands what the speaker really means - avoiding confusion and hardening of misconceptions
  • the speaker does not have to resort to excessive elaboration - avoiding repetition and saving time
  • intangible vague ideas can be broken up into comprehensible sub-concepts

Goals of this page

  • documenting existing usage of terms (and in cases the history of its usage)
  • proposing guidelines for when using which term
  • collecting suggestions for new terminology

Clean Terms

Atomically Precise Manufacturing

Defined on the main page.
This term was heavily used in the book "Radical Abundance: how a revolution in nanotechnology will change civilisation" to solve perception problems (See: History & Common misconceptions).

Atomically Precise Technology

Umberella term for APM and the products creatable with APM.
It should be used in place of the older term "molecular nanotechnology".


Defined on the "mechanosynthesis" page.

Total positional control/assembly

Use when both covalent bond breaking by force may not be meant but self assembly is excluded too. Total refers here that there is no self local assembly helping to place a building block relative to a controled position.

stereotactic control/assembly

A term introduced in Erik K. Drexlers book "Radical Abundance". (TODO: find out the exact usage contexts and usage rigorousity) This term seems to be borrowed from brain surgery robotics.

robotic control/assembly

The term robot has a history of being widely stretched

guided control/assembly

Often used by Eric K. Drexler to distinguish from self assembly. Self assembly could be described by assembly guided by part shape though. So it may not be recommendable to use this therm in this way.

Machine Phase

Defined on the "machine phase" page

Machine Phase Chemistry / Mechanochemistry

Defined on the "tooltip chemistry" page.

Diamondoid Materials

Defined on the "diamondoid" page.

Diamondoid Molecular Elements

Dedined on the "diamondoid molecular elements" page.

Here's a suggestion for a more catchy and usable name: crystolecules

Advanced Molecular Machinery

A bit too generic like "Nanomedicine".

Molecular Assembler

Defined on the "technology level III" page

Molecular Manufacturing

Good for as an umbrella term for all APM technology levels.

Advanced production methods

A good term to start a conversation. Working the way up over current day 3D printing.

Terms Containing "Nano"

See "history" for why the prefix nano is problematic in many cases.

terms that probably pose no problems

Molecular Nanotechnology

This is the most widely used term for AP technology as of (2013)
Google searches yield the most relevant results when this term is used.
Wikipedia uses this still as the main term Moelcular nanotechnology

Productive nanosystems

This is currently the prevalently used term. APM systems could be used as alternative.


Currently prevalently used term. There are several alternatives to the term "Nanofactory"

Nanobugs - OK if used in the right context

A term introduced by Erik K. Drexler to refer to the emerged zoo of SciFi-terms for mobile naoscale robotic devices That all vaguely refer to Molecular assemblers with the extra capabilities of super-mutatability and super-omnivorousity creating the far from reality global doomsday grey goo scenario. See history.

Advanced Nanotechnology

There is also advanced nanotechnology in the biological direction, so this term is too unspecific and should be avoided.

Nanomechanics - Ok

Nanostructures - in context Ok

Nanocosmos - in context Ok

Nanoscale - in context Ok

Machine Phase Nanotechnology - Ok (but uncommon)


Somewhat vague, medicine has always had subject areas about nano sized compounds.
An alternative may be "nanorobotic medicine".

Anorganic Nanorobotics / Anorganic Nanomechanics

Freely made up here, but seems quite fitting for technology level III

Useful for explaining the basics of APM to novices without needing to use the term "nanotechnology".

Terms to Avoid


This term is way too generic and has lost its original meaning. See "history" for more information.
The term Makrotechnology has the same specificity and it's clear why no one uses it.

Nanobots or Nanomachines

Spurs misinformed thoughts of artificial lifeforms.


Makes sure one thinks of life like creatures (insects/bugs) which are dangerous because they are life like. Basic advanced productive APM systems are nothing like that. (see nanobugs above)

Nanorobotics / Robotic Nanotechnology

The terms robot and robotic are too vague. Beside factory style robotics in advanced APM systems it also includes things that have little to nothing to do with them. Some things that start to get called robots are:

  • extremely advanced "nanites" with insect like properties often encountered in contemporary science fiction
  • simple hinged boxes for drug delivery with the lid clamped closed or left open and thermally flattering around
  • The ribosome, bacterial flagella motors and other systems from nano-biology


Not that bad for speculative medical nanodevices but propulsion and interaction with nanobiology is often imagined in wrong nonphysical ways.

General Terms

Terms to avoid

The flawed biological analogies

See main article: Misleading biological analogies that should be avoided

Drexlerian (technology)

This makes Erik K. Drexler sound like some religious leader. It has been [to verify] even intentionally used to emotionally discredit folks who see potential in the technology or even discredit E. Drexler himself. Also it points mainly to diamondoid assemblers - a concept that he has abandoned before he wrote Nanosystems. While Diamondoid materials always where and still are his far term focus they are not his singular focus. He is a strong proponent of the incremental path and rather critical towards the direct path. (See Technology level I)

Alternatives when referring to the far term goal:

  • high throughput atomically precise manufacturing (that's what E.Drexler introduced in his book "Radical Abundance") -- way to long IMO
  • advanced atomically precise manufacturing / advanced APM (technology) -- often used in this wiki
  • Prime suggestion: How about gemstone metamaterial technology or gem-gum-tec for short
  • diamondoid nanomechanics (technology)
  • ...

Technological evolution

Before using it check if you really mean evolution not an other type of improvement process like targeted design.
Some evolutionary traits:

  • lots of unexpected mergement of seemingly unrelated ideas
  • brute force trial and error visiting much more dead ends than successful continuation points

In a strict observation the term technology generation inherits the meaning of evolution too.

Terms for precise distinction of often confused aspects


"gemstone" vs "ceramics"

The term "gemstone" tends to immediately raises the association with high scarcity. But its still better than the term "diamond" that tends to instantly break suspense of disbelief dragging conversation into joke territory quenching any further serious discussion. Still the term "gemstone" tends to derail explanation attempts from things that are important upfront to things that should better be explained later.

  • One first wants to explain why these kinds of materials are of highest interest (stiffness, difficulty test case in terms of mechanosynthesis)
  • Only then one wants to explain why gemstones actually can become extremely abundant. And that they actually can (via the "easiness" of metamaterials) end civilizations dependence on resource that are much more fundamentally scarce (like e.g. alloying metals obsolete). Much more fundamentally scarce because they are chemical elements that fundamentally cannot be changed by chemical means.

The term "ceramics" may deliver a less wrong picture (no extreme scarcity -- and macroscale impact resilience through nano-crystallinity) but it it does so for the wrong reasons. Nano-crystals of ceramics are never atomically precise since they are always (pretty much by definition) created via statistical thermodynamic processes (high heat and pressure or even in case of natural biomineralisation there is statistical diffusion). Ceramics are dumb passive materials statistical in the small scales and homogeneous on larger scales. They are very different from gemstone based metamaterials which are neither statistical on the smaller scales nor homogeneous at the large scales.


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