In 1986, Eric Drexler published his book about nanotechnology, “Engines of Creation.” He also introduced the very words "nano” and “molecular nanotechnology” in their new sense.
I defended Drexler in my articles because Congress made no allocation to his “Foresight Institute,” since he was represented by his ill-wishers up to the early 2000s as a charlatan who had invented fantasies like nano and molecular nanotechnology.
Today, just several years later, to ridicule molecular nanotechnology would be like ridiculing higher mathematics.
In its apparent wish not to seem militaristic and receive allocations from Congress, the Foresight Institute held a conference not near its site in California but in Washington, D.C., and invited several congressmen. I was present as a member of the Institute.
Now, the general title of Drexler’s book is “Engines of Creation,” and only one chapter (Chapter 11) was entitled “The Engines of Destruction.” I was interested in this particular chapter, since the very survival of the United States and the rest of the free world depends on superior “engines of destruction,” that is, nano-weaponry.
When Drexler finished his presentation (about the "Engines of Creation"), I raised my hand to speak, and I heard the editor of a nano-magazine whispering, in a theatrical manner, say, “Now, run for cover!”
I asked Drexler why in his speech he did not mention the “Engines of Destruction”; that is, nano-weapons for the defense of the United States and the free West in general. Drexler’s answer was that when the engines of creation had been realized universally, the problem of world peace would have also been solved, and so there would be no need for the nano-engines of destruction.
On a more historical note, let us recall that England became in the 17th century a strong military power due to its Industrial Revolution (spinning and weaving machines, Watt’s steam engine, the railway locomotive, and the factory system with its assembly lines). Arms that used explosives were called “firearms.” That was what war was like for about four centuries, including the past century: steel contraptions blasted out — by means of explosives — bullets, shells, bombs, etc., to kill enemy soldiers and destroy enemy installations.
Nano-weaponry makes it all as obsolete as firearms made bows obsolete in the 17th century.
Originally, Drexler included “Engines of Destruction” in his book but then took it out, possibly for fear of being viewed as a militarist. However, on his Web site, KurzweilAI.net, Ray Kurzweil, an admirer of Drexler and a scientist of genius in his own right, publishes Chapter 11.
In Chapter 11, Eric Drexler writes that nano-weapons “can be more potent than nuclear weapons: to devastate Earth with [nuclear] bombs would require masses of exotic hardware and rare isotopes, but to destroy all life with [nano] replicators would require only a single speck made of ordinary elements.” We also read, “A [nuclear] bomb can only blast things, but nanomachines . . . could be used to infiltrate, seize, change, and govern a territory or a world.”
The epigraph to “Engines of Destruction,” taken from Sir William Perry and dated by 1640, says, "Nor do I doubt if the most formidable armies ever heere [sic] upon earth is a sort of soldiers who for their smallness are not visible."
To compare the size of Drexler’s “nano-soldiers” with that of microbes? The unit of molecular nanotechnology is a molecule. Drexler proceeded from the fact that a molecule contains space, which can be filled, thus converting the molecule into a mobile computer and God knows what else. Yet compared with a molecule, a microbe is a giant: Even before Drexler’s studies, one nanocentimeter meant one billionth of a centimeter.
All this may seem miraculous in 2008 just as firearms seemed miraculous in 1646. Yet the new epoch has come: The future world war will be a war of nano-weapons, not of firearms.
The advent of the epoch of firearms was fostered by the Industrial Revolution. There is no such nano-machinery revolution that would foster the production of nano-weaponry. My readers ask me where they can see nano-weapons as they can see firearms. Devoted to new weapons in all countries is the book “Oblivion: America at the Brink” by Lt. Col. Thomas Bearden (U.S. Army, retired). Bearden believes that the United States is “at the brink” in this respect. “If we are to survive, we shall need the most strenuous and rapid effort in our history, now.”
What about nano-weapons? Bearden’s book, published in 2005, does not yet say a word about them.
In a totalitarian country, its owners can allocate as much funds into a military project as is necessary in their opinion to win the crucial war. In a free country today, the decision depends on the electoral majority, on the media, explaining to the majority what should be done, and on the top-level bureaucracy, some of whose members take into consideration their own interests first and foremost.
From what I have seen in the United States in the last decade, the chances of the free world surviving in a modern world war (that is, the war of nano-weapons, not of firearms) requires strong minds, not the attempts to assure men of genius like Drexler that the engines of destruction are just figments of their imagination because they sound militaristic to Congress.
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