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

Moved to: No nanobots

Macroscale style machinery at the nanoscale ?!

Moved to: Macroscale style machinery at the nanoscale

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

A sub concern is:

  • Thermodynamics prevents one from having every atom at the place we want it - wrong for practical scales -- See main article: "Thermodynamics".

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 generally "The finger problems" featuring two more ones newly identified on this wiki.

Atoms can't be placed fast enough - false

To make macroscopic products in a reasonable timespan 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

It's called "nanotechnology" - not anymore

Due to the terms extreme generality it caused severe confusion and conflict. Hardening misconceprions 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).

It's seems best to refrain from using the term "nanotechnology" as much as possible (and the nano- prefix in general) when referring to APM related ideas.

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

See main article: "Nature does it differently".

It will be enormously difficult to develop advanced APM possibly requiring super advanced AI – Wrong

  • The biggest current challenges are of conceptual and institutional nature.
  • What is not well know about advanced APM is that there is stuff that can be known.

This concern may come from a confusion of the complexity of targeted artificial productive nanosystems with:

  • the complexity of life (Not to say that this is impossible. The field of synthetic biology, unrelated to APM(!), is the area aiming towards that) and or
  • the complexity of quantum mechanics (see: "It's not quantum mechanical")

(wiki-TODO: add two appropriate links)

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.

Here are just a few very relevant examples. There are plenty more.

  • improving on atomically precise foldamer technology (like e.g. structural DNA technology, stiffer spiroligomers, ...)
  • improving on the already demonstrated convergent self-assembly method. Making it more scalable robust and usable.
  • creating standard sets of very simple moving foldamer machine elements (like hinges)
  • improving on data transmission into these foldamer systems
  • improving on already demonstrated higher speed electroscatic data (and force) transmission
  • introducing mechanical demultiplexing into foldamer systems

  • isolating core processes of biomineralization and semi-artificially recreating them (not for superficial biomimicry for "short term" benefit trying to recreate desirable material properties like those of mica. This is already in process today 2018 and not too relevant for APM. But on a deeper less immediately useful level, very small de-novo-foldamers for very controlled deposition of mololithic flawlessly atomically precise singly crystal blocks.

  • miniaturizing SPM systems without sacrificing their high resolution capabilities
  • building a (miniaturized) SPM framework for preliminary extremely low throughput tests for advanced to very advanced mechanosynthetic reactions.

  • (not yet possible) mounting de-novo-biomineralization tooltips into foldamer frameworks ("tying the knot" in the forward backward gap)

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

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.

Minor ones

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

See: "Femtotechnology"

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

Many gemstones are made of very common elements. Its just a question of manufacturing capabilities. In this case capabilities in mechanosynthesis.

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 (non statistical) chemistry. Chemistry cannot make elements. (See "femtotechnology" for more details why).

Elements can only be made with nuclear technology (really big 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 the 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 en masse. But this is a whole nother 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??)