Engines of Creation by Eric Drexler
3 June 2007 (updated 26 June 2020)
I recently finished reading Engines of Creation, written by Eric Drexler in the mid 1980s. This is perhaps the most influential book ever written about nanotechnology, and is also an enjoyable read.
It begins with the inclusion of “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom”, given by Richard Feynman in 1959. In this visionary talk, Feynman described encoding data in small areas, miniaturizing computers, and paths toward the creation of many “small hands” for organizing atoms.
Building on Feynman’s talk, Drexler proceeds to describe a framework for nanotechnology. He asserts that no new scientific breakthroughs are required; nanotechnology appears to be quite possible within the context of our current understanding of physics and chemistry. The challenge, he argues, is the continuing miniaturization of our technology, generation by generation, to enable the next advances and ultimately achieve the ability to manipulate matter atom by atom.
Drexler explores some of the opportunities of nanotechnology, such as material abundance, strong artificial intelligence, advanced space travel, and indefinite life spans. He also elaborates on the limits and destructive capacity of nanotechnology, and discusses some ideas for mitigating such risks.
Toward the end of the book, Drexler expresses hope for widespread adoption of a global hypertext network, a decade before the Internet emerged into public awareness in the 1990s. He foresaw such a network as a means to improve awareness of opportunities and risks associated with nanotechnology, and to increase the likelihood of favorable outcomes.
I found this book insightful and inspirational, and consider its message important enough to recommend to anyone with the ability to read and comprehend its ideas. The promise and peril of nanotechnology is of such magnitude that each of us, whether technologist or not, may be deeply affected by it … even those who do not live long enough to see it until after the fact – check out the chapter on cryonics.
If you like these thoughts, you might also like “Religion Is Not the Enemy of Nanotechnology.”