Common misconceptions about atomically precise manufacturing

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APM is a very novel area of research and development that dives into fields of knowledge that are yet pretty alien for most people including many "nanotechnology" experts. When encountering a new network of knowledge one usually tries to apply existing knowledge to judge statements and claims - what else can one do. Without deeper understanding of the relationships this can lead people into trapdoors. Some are so bad that almost everyone falls in. This page is intended to be a guide around those trapdoors.

No nanobots here

See main page: No nanobots

When thinking about manufacturing things from the bottom up almost atom by atom often
the first association that often comes up are "nanobots" in the sense of
"littly tiny critters" that can do highly compact self replication.

A more technical analysis though revealed that this concept is not the right
approach. (At least when it comes to most manufacturing systems.)

This (mis)association of APM with "nanobots" and the intense historic discussion may be due to:
(1) Nanobots being a self suggesting first idea.
(2) Nanobots being a an idea that tends to rile up emotions because they coming with a number of wild secondary (mis)associations like:

  • them being almost life like – The "How dare you try to play god argument".
  • them being capable to evolve like bacteria cells
  • them being able to "eat" just about anything
  • them getting totally out of control – The "How dare you even think about something so dangerous argument"

And that's totally missing that self replicatibe nanobots are not even the target anymore.

Macroscale style machinery at the nanoscale ?!

Or: Macro-scale style machinery isn't suitable for the quantum world one needs something more exotic instead - wrong

Topic of discussion:
What is under scrutiny here is what is crudely outlined in this animation video:
Productive Nanosystems From molecules to superproducts.
What is shown is a quite accurate visualization of the results of exploratory engineering that was done in the work that is Nanosystems.

There are quite a number of points of critique here.
They are listed and discussed on the page: Macroscale style machinery at the nanoscale
The gist is: It is rather clear where the points of critique come from. That is: There are good reason for all these doubts given the current (2021) state of technology. But all of the most fundamental critique points have been analyzed and came to a favorabel conclusion for the concept to work. In the end it turns out that the chaining of physics with size scales makes macroscale style machinery at the nanoscale actually work better rather than worse than "macroscale style machinery at the macroscale". Contrary to the expectation of some "current day nanotechnology" experts. (Side-note: If you are wondering about nanoscale style machinery at the macroscale now: This is hardly possible.)

Related: Applicability of macro 3D printing for nanomachine prototyping

Potential concerns about mechanosynthesis

Atoms can't be placed individually because of "fat and sticky fingers" - sticky is actually good fat is just untrue for the tips

Disproved by basic experimental and detailed theoretical work. See: Mechanosynthesis. It may get a bit more challenging when the mechanosynthesis of complex chain molecules is attempted. Which is not a requirement for gem-gum-factories.

See main articles: "Fat finger problem" and "Sticky finger problem"
Or more generally see: "The finger problems".
There are two more finger problems beside the two infamous ones.

Once placed atoms won't stay there because of "thermodynamics" - mostly false - solvable problem

In other words: Thermodynamics prevents one from having every atom at the place we want it - wrong for practical scales

Picking the right materials to synthesize the placed atoms will very much stay where they are put.
Except hit by hard radiation. Radiation can be dealt with by:

More details:

Atoms can't be placed fast enough - false

To make macroscopic products in a reasonable time-span by putting them together atom by atom would require atom placement frequencies too high to reach.

This is not true. Quite moderate atom placement frequencies in the MHz range suffice when combined with massive spacial parallelism that is hard but realistically to reach. See: "Atom placement frequency" for details.

Control data can't be supplied fast enough - false

We already do similar things with our current technology. See: Data IO bottleneck

If the goal would be to make an exact copy of some chunk of naturally occuring matter with every atom at the
same place the amount of data would indeed could not be handled because the data can't be efficiently compressed.
But that is not the goal. Even in the actual case of synthesis of food this is not the goal.

For organic matter the nature of data de-compression from DNA to tissue is vastly different to
the data-compression in gem-gum factories from code to gem-gum product.
See: Decompression chain

It's called "nanotechnology" - not anymore

Due to the terms extreme generality it caused confusion and conflict.
Hardening misconceptions causing unjustified discreditation going as far as
career fear based self censorship and consequently a severe setback in development.

For details see main article: "The term nanotechnology" (and page: History).

When referring to APM related ideas it's seems best

  • to refrain from using the term "nanotechnology" as much as possible and
  • to refrain from using the nano- prefix in general

But be more specific as far as this is possible.

Nature does it differently thus advanced APM must be flawed. – Faulty reasoning.

See main article: "Nature does it differently".

It will be insurmountably difficult to develop advanced APM – Wrong

No, not insurmountable. Yes, it will be a very difficult journey.
It's just a humongous, possibly multi-generational, challenge with many people and work-hours involved.
It may happen within one single average human lifespan (as of 2021), but anyone who says that this is a fact is wildly guessing.
There is not "the one exponential trend" like e.g Moores law that can be projected into the future.
At least not yet.

There are some common incorrect assumptions about what
are unconditionally necessary technological prerequisite skills.

Three misconceptions:

  • This technology would need to be as advanced as life.
  • We have no hope of ever recreating a level of technological skill that comes anywhere close to life.
  • We should not even dare to attempt recreation of something as advanced as life.

No, no, and false premise respectively.

  • No, the technology is very different to living systems and most likely much less complex. (See dedicated section below)
  • No, there is other (APM unrelated) technological development that aims at recreation of primitive life like systems and it might have chance at succeeding.
  • Aside the false premise:
    Don't we have the obligation (and privilege) to research the world given to us in a responsible way.
    Won't the lack of hopes dreams and curiosity will certainly lead to bad things?

Handling the complexity of full on quantum mechanical systems will be an unconditionally necessary technological skill.
Full on quantum mechanically meaning aptly handling highly quantum-dispersed and entangled-systems.
No, This is not a prerequisite for advanced APM. See: "It's not quantum mechanical"
It would be a prerequisite if building quantum computers would be a direct target of APM, but that is not a target.
Advanced skills in quantum system handling will rather be a natural byproduct of developments in the field of APM.

Super advanced AI/AGI systems will be critically necessary to build even minimal viable advanced productive nanosystems.
No, We managed to build incredibly intricate computer-chips without advanced AI.
Though it certainly will be of help for optimizing routing of electrical and other subsystems and such.
And AI tools will become increasingly available. Same with quantum computing.

The (very difficult) direct path is a the only viable path.
No, there is also the incremental path (using soft nanotech to get to stiff nanotech ASAP)
A path that can augment the direct path or rather take on the bulk of the development process.

We would need god like skills to create life-like nanotechnology

No, Development of APM does not aim at recreating some form of artificial life.
Aiming at doing that is part of a sub-field of synthetic biology.
Synthetic biology is a different field of technological development.
Synthetic biology is not aiming at atomically precision over over larger size scales and thus
it does not fall into the field of APM as defined in this wiki.
People working in the field of synthetic biology may well have a chance at creating primitive life like systems.
So even if R&D in the field of APM would aim at recreating primitive life-like systems (which it does not)
the situation would still not be absolutely hopeless.

Complex systems can gain surprising and charismatic behavior similar to life. Looking at computers and AI/AGI here.
So eventually products made by gem-gum on chip factories may behave and feel life like.
But that is way beyond basic advanced productive nanosystems.
That would be about the most advanced products of them. (Related: Multi limbed sensory equipped shells)

Associations of R&D in the field of APM with the idea of recreating life-likely systems comes
likely mostly from the self-suggesting analogy to microorganisms like bacteria that
was brought forward in the (now outdated) molecular assembler concept (initially presented in Engines of Creation).
While molecular assemblers would not need to be anywhere near as complex as living cells (e.g. no need for evolving skills)
they would need to be much more complicated (and slow/inefficient) than systems that do not feature such ultra-compact self-replicative capabilities.

The idea of molecular assemblers (the idea not the devices themselves) is so successful compared to the actual target likely because:

  • it's self suggestiveness - people can hinge on something that they (believe) to understand - (thereby being massively misled)
  • it being the only option if the direct path is the only path under consideration. Ignoring the incremental path.

Early advanced productive nanosystems will likely be more like computer chips rather than living cells.
While living cells store their building plan in a few gigabytes (which is well in reach of current 2021 computer technology)
the incredible aspect of life is the degree of smartness in data-compression.
E.g. how a whole human being can be encoded in the little amount of information stored in the DNA (ignoring epigenetics and the microbiome here).
But again, recreating that is an eventual goal of synthetic biology not a goal when aiming for minimal viable gem-gum factories.

Actual points of great difficulty in the development of APM that often overlooked

  • The biggest current challenges in relevant targeted development are of conceptual and institutional nature.
  • What is not (yet) well know about advanced APM is that there is stuff that actually can already be known.
  • Funding of highly targeted relevant work is very difficult.
  • Not an exhaustive list ...

Advanced APM systems are a "castle in the sky" with no way to built them - not quite

It has often be perceived that diamondoid molecular elements can only be synthesized by stiff tools made that themselves are made from diamondoid molecular elements. The incremental path avoids circular dependencies by continuously changing the method of assembly from self assembly to stereotactic control. (Radical Abundance - page 190)

The direct path tries to use bigger already stiff but not quite atomically precise slabs of material to build stiff atomically precise structures (e.g. in MEMS-AFMs). This is not fundamentally impossible but a much steeper slope judging from the progress rates.

Lots of relevant pathway entry (and exit) points worth starting to take

There is by no means a lack of places where invested work would clearly lead to progress that is specifically relevant to APM.

If one looks at the right places then one can find both:

  • Lots of pathway-starts "signed" to lead to the target.
  • Lots of pathway-ends "signed" to come from the start.

With this many starts and ends the existence and realistic archievability of at least one path connecting some start to some end is very very likely.

See pages:

Using soft/compliant manomachinery to get to hard/stiff nanomachinery ASAP is hypocrisy - false

No, it's just a practical approach.
Ones usage of soft nanomachinery for a rapid bootstrapping process does in no way invalidate the results of exploratory engineering which says (as a highly reliable prediction) that stiff nanomachinery (A) is possible and (B) will (if ever enough focus and effort is put in for it to be built) be capable of outperforming soft nanomachinery by orders of magnitude in pretty much all regards.

It seems that currently there are more pathway entry (and exit) points via an incremental path approach rather than there are pathway entry (and exit) points for a direct path approach. That is, it seems as if current technology is just not ready yet to make a a big sudden leap forward. (Side-note: This may be a good thing, considering stability of world economy and such.)

Using to a large (but not exclusive) part soft nanomachinery to get to stiff nanomachinery ASAP is thus the natural and most productive thing to do.

On the other hand:
Using soft nanomachinery without a clear focus towards stiff nanomachinery will not automatically lead to stiff nanomachinery (at least not in any reasonable timespan). So arguing that there is already effort in soft nanomachinery and thus if stiff nanomachinery is possible, we will end up there eventually anyway, is a very bad approach.

Almost everything will be buildable - often misunderstood

In particular organic matter like food, replacement organs, and chain polymers likes today's plastics are not a target product of gem-gum technology.
At least not a direct target.

No food from gem-gum factories

Future gem-gum factories are not in any way intended to be usable for food production. Structures out of solvated weakly linked non stiff proteins and lipid layers are a good example of "anti-diamondoid" materials. Specialized devices will be capable of some limited form of synthesis of food.

Attempting to create genetic twin tissue (avoiding the need for a complete scan) has the problem that information extraction from DNA to a spacial (not only typological) atom and molecule configuration is not straightforward to say the least. There's not only the forward protein folding problem but also the yet unsolved riddle how body shape at all scales is encoded.

Why an perfect 1:1 copy of a steak is and will stay impossible

Attempting to create exact copies down to positional atomic presicion of an original tissue at this point seems ridiculously complex. Some kind of very advanced scan (atomically precise disassembly) of the original would be needed to be performed in advance. Trying to compress quasi-random atom configurations data hierarchically like in diamondoid APM systems would probably lead to strange unnatural compression artifacts. The need to produce everything in a frozen state (ice crystals) might be a hard problem but one of the most minute ones.

Tasty "meta-food" may be creatable (given sufficient design effort in chain molecule mechanosynthesis capabilities)

Creating something edible by mixing pure synthesizes molecules together (quite a lot of sloppy molecules need to be synthesizable thus not something to expect early on) together would produce something like an advanced nourishment dough. One may be able to fake familiar food for the human senses or make something else heterogeneous and tasty but it's questionable whether we really desire to fool ourselves. At some ends deficiencies through lopsided nutrition may arise while at other ends food might get a lot healthier. A mixed nutrition with natural food will probably be best.

Competing with cheap potatoes is hard

Note: Plants are already self replicating and thus cheap. Most people just don't grow all of the plants they consume because they need space, sun, soil, and often industrial post processing. Advanced (technical) APM will bring all the other stuff to the same or lower price level per mass. Including means for easier plant breeding.

To be competitive with the cheap self replicating food that we eat today tissue construction via advanced mechanosynthetic means (e.g. a pie like this hoax [1]) must be quite a bit faster than biological machinery. This may be expectable but at this point the highly diverse tool-tip chemistry at cryogenic temperatures and at the threshold of stability needed poses a prohibitively high barrier. That is barely any exploratory engineering can be applied here. Further some kind of hierarchical assembly that completely replaces the natural system would be needed.

Other sources of synthetic food

Also other technology branches (bio-nanotechnology ...) unrelated to APM may be able to produce edible tissues before of after we attain advanced APM capabilities.

Less common and or less relevant misconceptions

Why not go build with nucleons when they are even smaller than atoms?

Simply stated: Because it is not possible.
See: "Femtotechnology"

Gemstones are inherently scarce and valuable (and will always be) - wrong

Many gemstones are made of very common elements.
Making gemstones in a dirt cheap way is just a question of manufacturing capabilities.
In this case capabilities in mechanosynthesis.

See page: Abundant element
On the page "Chemical element" the most abundant ones (in Earth's crust) are the ones that are not in brackets.
There are plenty of combinations of very comon elements that make gemstones that make a very good structural base material.
See: Base materials with high potential

Gemstones are inherently brittle - wrong

(Or: One can't make soft materials from diamond - wrong)

What makes gemstones brittle are faults.

Faults are unavoidable in macroscopic gemstones.

  • Todays (2017) synthetic gems have faults right from birth due to their thermodynamic production route.
  • Tomorrows mechanosynthesized gems will quickly gain faults through natural ionizing radiation originating from the environment (or even from within in the likely case that radioactive isotopes where included)

Faults are with a very high rate avoidable in nanoscale gemstones (crystolecules) though. Most of a whole lot of identical crystolecules are perfectly flawlwess. Due to lack of any flaws these crystolecules are bendable to a pretty high degree. Well, not as extreme like rubber (several 100%) but still easily up to a two digit percentage range. A macroscopic block composed out of interlocking crystolecules does catch the cracks of the few unavoidably broken crystolecules at the clean unconnected borders between crystolecules. This makes the macroscopic block much less brittle than a single crystal. (Side-note: Crystolecules do not only feature a perfectly flawless interior but also atomically precise surfaces.) Adding a more sophisticated metamaterial structure allows even emulation off rubber like properties (reversible strainability to several 100%) but with much higher tensile strength (and heat resistance).

APM can make precious metals from dirt - wrong

APM is all about chemistry. Well, unnatural chemistry but that's not the point here. The point is that chemistry cannot make or change (transmute) elements. (See "femtotechnology" for more details why).

Elements can only be made with nuclear technology (which are necessarily macroscale power-plants). This is called (nuclear) transmutation. It is (and likely will remain) way too inefficient to be economic. A better option may be to get scarce elements from space (asteroid mining) in case they really will be needed in great amounts.
Side-note: Not that its important in face of the other problems but, unlike chemical APM, nuclear technology seems to be fundamentally statistical in nature. At least if one does not want to go to extremely speculative areas.

Of course it will be possible to use APM to build nuclear power-plants in great numbers. But this is an entirely different topic.

Diamond has a much lower density than silicon (which has identical structure) - wrong

Quite the opposite actually - diamond is pretty heavy for its volume:

  • Diamond: 3.5–3.53 g/cm3
  • "(Diamond+Silicon)/2" ~= Moissanite: 3.218–3.22 g/cm3 (heavier than the average density)
  • Silicon: 2.3290 g/cm3
  • Quartz: 2.65 g/cm3 (denser than silicon although there are voids and lighter oxygen interspersed - how??)


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