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Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization

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K. Eric Drexler is the founding father of nanotechnology—the science of engineering on a molecular level. In Radical Abundance, he shows how rapid scientific progress is about to change our world. Thanks to atomically precise manufacturing, we will soon have the power to produce radically more of what people want, and at a lower cost. The result will shake the very foundat K. Eric Drexler is the founding father of nanotechnology—the science of engineering on a molecular level. In Radical Abundance, he shows how rapid scientific progress is about to change our world. Thanks to atomically precise manufacturing, we will soon have the power to produce radically more of what people want, and at a lower cost. The result will shake the very foundations of our economy and environment. Already, scientists have constructed prototypes for circuit boards built of millions of precisely arranged atoms. The advent of this kind of atomic precision promises to change the way we make things—cleanly, inexpensively, and on a global scale. It allows us to imagine a world where solar arrays cost no more than cardboard and aluminum foil, and laptops cost about the same. A provocative tour of cutting edge science and its implications by the field's founder and master, Radical Abundance offers a mind-expanding vision of a world hurtling toward an unexpected future.


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K. Eric Drexler is the founding father of nanotechnology—the science of engineering on a molecular level. In Radical Abundance, he shows how rapid scientific progress is about to change our world. Thanks to atomically precise manufacturing, we will soon have the power to produce radically more of what people want, and at a lower cost. The result will shake the very foundat K. Eric Drexler is the founding father of nanotechnology—the science of engineering on a molecular level. In Radical Abundance, he shows how rapid scientific progress is about to change our world. Thanks to atomically precise manufacturing, we will soon have the power to produce radically more of what people want, and at a lower cost. The result will shake the very foundations of our economy and environment. Already, scientists have constructed prototypes for circuit boards built of millions of precisely arranged atoms. The advent of this kind of atomic precision promises to change the way we make things—cleanly, inexpensively, and on a global scale. It allows us to imagine a world where solar arrays cost no more than cardboard and aluminum foil, and laptops cost about the same. A provocative tour of cutting edge science and its implications by the field's founder and master, Radical Abundance offers a mind-expanding vision of a world hurtling toward an unexpected future.

30 review for Radical Abundance: How a Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization

  1. 5 out of 5

    Mal Warwick

    Once upon a time a nutty scientist gave a talk called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” The scientist was the wacky and wonderfully entertaining Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman, the guy who solved the mystery of the Challenger disaster. It was 1959, and he was not referring to organization charts but, rather, to the bottom of the physical measurement scale. He was referring to atoms and molecules measured in nanometers. As a student, Eric Drexler took up Feynman’s challenge. He’s the man who Once upon a time a nutty scientist gave a talk called “There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom.” The scientist was the wacky and wonderfully entertaining Nobel Laureate Richard Feynman, the guy who solved the mystery of the Challenger disaster. It was 1959, and he was not referring to organization charts but, rather, to the bottom of the physical measurement scale. He was referring to atoms and molecules measured in nanometers. As a student, Eric Drexler took up Feynman’s challenge. He’s the man who crafted the term “nanotechnology” and set off a race for its realization. In Radical Abundance, he sets the record straight on this much-misunderstood field and paints a picture of a possible (not certain) future of plenty for the human race. It’s important to note at the outset that, despite the implied inevitability of the book’s subtitle, Drexler is not in a class with the boosters of a glorious future such as Ray Kurzweil and Peter Diamandis. (I previously reviewed Diamandis’ Abundance: The Future Is Better Than You Think.) Drexler is more level-headed than that. He recognizes the immensity of the challenges facing homo sapiens in the twenty-first century, from the self-inflicted travesty of global climate change, to the danger of massive unemployment once manufacturing is completely automated, to the sheer perversity of human nature in organized settings. A future of unlimited possibility At his most expansive, Drexler describes a revolutionary new nanotechnology manufacturing paradigm that could produce such items as ultra-efficient solar energy generators, ultra-safe, zero-emission automobiles, and, presumably, perfectly insulated dwellings with innumerable electronic capabilities — all from simple raw materials such as air, sand, and water. “Imagine a world,” Drexler writes, “where the gadgets and goods that run our society are produced not in a far-flung supply chain of industrial facilities, but in compact, even desktop-scale, machines. Imagine replacing an enormous automobile factory and all of its multi-million dollar equipment with a garage-size facility that can assemble cars from inexpensive, microscopic parts, with production times measured in minutes. Then imagine that the technologies that can make these visions real are emerging — under many names, behind the scenes, with a long road yet ahead, yet moving surprisingly fast.” An unfortunate detour along the way As the author explains at length (and in more than one place, resulting in some duplication), his vision of nanotechnology — enunciated in a scholarly paper at MIT in 1981 and in a widely read book for the public, Engines of Creation, five years later — was a call for Atomically Precise Manufacturing (APM). In Drexler’s concept, scientists and engineers a few decades down the road would perfect the techniques of assembling atoms and molecules into minuscule machines capable of crafting slightly larger machines, which would in turn create even larger machines. After numerous generations of ever-more capable machines, the system would turn out all manner of useful items. And the whole manufacturing system would be housed in the equivalent of a box just slightly larger than the products it was designed to manufacture. Sadly, Drexler’s compelling vision was bowdlerized soon after the publication of Engines of Creation by both journalists who rhapsodized about such things as tiny robots that would rush to a blood clot and demolish it before damage could be done, and science fiction writers who, of course, went much further. You may recall reading about nanobots run wild and becoming “gray goo” that would consume everything in their path, including their creators. Though Drexler protested loudly that this was nonsense, the most colorful of these creations took hold in the public imagination and helped suppress the funding necessary for R&D to bring his vision to fruition. Even worse happened in 2000 during the transition from the Clinton Administration to that of George W. Bush. Earlier that year, Wired magazine published an article by Bill Joy — a cofounder of Sun Microsystems and one of the country’s most celebrated technologists — warning about the dangers inherent in nanotechnology, genetic engineering, and the creation of sentient robots. Joy’s disquiet was summed up in a single sentence: “robots, engineered organisms, and nanobots share a dangerous amplifying factor: They can self-replicate.” In effect, Joy had fallen prey to the “gray goo” fallacy. And apparently his fear projected onto the managers of a bill recently passed by Congress to allocate a billion dollars to nanotechnology research: instead of just taking the money and running with it, the custodians of the program rewrote the terms of the grant (after Congress had defined them) so as to rule out any mention of atoms or molecules and instead to redefine nanotechnology as a field dealing with anything really, really small (i.e., measured in nanometers). As a consequence, the field bifurcated into two streams, with the public drowning in all the confusion that came about. A book for scientists, engineers, and their fans Radical Abundance covers a lot of territory, from Drexler’s personal intellectual history to the history of technology to the difference between science and engineering as well as his vision of future plenty. However, much of the book requires more than a rudimentary understanding of science. Rather than characterize its audience as the general public, it’s probably fairer to say that those who would gain the most from the book are scientists, engineers, and people who can engage in conversations with them without becoming befuddled. In other words, the book is challenging at times for a reader such as me: my last organized brush with science was half a century ago in college, and what I learned then (little of which I remember) bears little resemblance to science today, anyway. Nonetheless, the prophetic message in Radical Abundance — and the numerous warning signs posted throughout the book — make this invaluable reading for anyone concerned about humanity’s prospects for the future.

  2. 4 out of 5

    David Haller

    What a frustratingly dull book. It seemed, on the surface, like a go-to source for a survey of nanotechnology; it is, after all, written by the fellow who coined the term. The author, unfortunately, uses the book as a mere platform to decry the bastardization of the term nanotechnology itself (alas, sometimes words fly way on their own after you coin-and-release!), advocating the more "accurate" term "atomically precise manufacturing" (APM); he goes on, even more sadly, to desperately remind the What a frustratingly dull book. It seemed, on the surface, like a go-to source for a survey of nanotechnology; it is, after all, written by the fellow who coined the term. The author, unfortunately, uses the book as a mere platform to decry the bastardization of the term nanotechnology itself (alas, sometimes words fly way on their own after you coin-and-release!), advocating the more "accurate" term "atomically precise manufacturing" (APM); he goes on, even more sadly, to desperately remind the reader AGAIN and AGAIN that he is the fellow who initially popularized the subject of nanotechnology himself (though it's worth noting that he has done little in the actual technical or theoretical development in the field.) One positive note: Drexler DOES provide an insightful discussion in the contrasting aspects of science and engineering, in particular, too, providing a nice overview of the methodology of engineering development (though a similar discussion can be found in the more entertaining "Synthetic Biology: A Primer") I soldiered through, and it was rough. One hopes that there are better surveys out there.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Pierre

    The deterministic and dry counterpart to the stochastic and wet Creation https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1.... Convince yourself this is no crank by looking at his original dissertation http://e-drexler.com/d/06/00/Nanosyst.... For a shorter read without the history and politics (which are also important) and philosophy (which is an interesting distraction to a limited audience) see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molecula... I'm glad I found this book because it led me to read these other sourc The deterministic and dry counterpart to the stochastic and wet Creation https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/1.... Convince yourself this is no crank by looking at his original dissertation http://e-drexler.com/d/06/00/Nanosyst.... For a shorter read without the history and politics (which are also important) and philosophy (which is an interesting distraction to a limited audience) see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Molecula... I'm glad I found this book because it led me to read these other sources. Not 5 stars because of style and verbosity. Next time I hope Drexler collaborates with a science writer. I only had patience with the epistemological rhapsody on engineering compared to science because I am separately interested in the topic.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Nick

    A breathless love letter to nanotechnology and "atomically precise manufacturing" that no one asked to read. It has astonishingly little content; the author repeats himself for three hundred pages and seems very pleased with himself for doing so.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Ben Rieger

    When the author was giving specific information the book was great. Unfortunately those instances were in the minority and the rest of the time the author was speaking in generalizations and meaningless vague language. The "information" in this book mostly fell into a useless middle ground between digestible example or analogy, and technical detail. The majority of the book reads like the author had personal demons to exorcise, rather than exciting or important information to share. There were c When the author was giving specific information the book was great. Unfortunately those instances were in the minority and the rest of the time the author was speaking in generalizations and meaningless vague language. The "information" in this book mostly fell into a useless middle ground between digestible example or analogy, and technical detail. The majority of the book reads like the author had personal demons to exorcise, rather than exciting or important information to share. There were certainly a handful of parts that were inspiring or packed with semi-technical information, but the rest of the book was drowned in a muddle of overly intellectual rambling. This book should be edited to cut out or refocus that bulk.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Douglas Summers-Stay

    I've been following the developments in nanotech since the 90's, when I read Drexler's original book (Engines of Creation). Both that one and the subsequent one (Nanosystems) were better than this one. The technical details he presents in this book were already familiar, as well as the potential for revolution in the manufacture of physical goods and the potential for incredible cost reductions and performance improvements that molecular factories would make possible. The remainder of the book w I've been following the developments in nanotech since the 90's, when I read Drexler's original book (Engines of Creation). Both that one and the subsequent one (Nanosystems) were better than this one. The technical details he presents in this book were already familiar, as well as the potential for revolution in the manufacture of physical goods and the potential for incredible cost reductions and performance improvements that molecular factories would make possible. The remainder of the book was mainly about the politics of science (like Noble Savages, the last book I reviewed) a subject which is no doubt endlessly fascinating to the participants, but very boring to anyone else. Drexler is upset that people use the term nanotech to include any tech on the nanoscale, since what he meant when he coined the word was atomically precise manufacturing. The former, being easier, has siphoned away a lot of money that could have been spent on the latter. The most interesting part of the book to me was the contrast of science and technology. Since my work is a hopeless mishmash of both, often technology pretending to be science, I enjoyed his take. All of my criticisms, though, are of style and presentation. Everything Drexler suggests seems like a good idea that should be heavily funded if possible. He seems quite level-headed despite the limitless potential of the system he describes. One important idea that I had to work out for myself, that he spends some time on in this book, is how much time speeds up in virtually every way as you shrink down in size. If you think about how systems inside a cell must work, by accidental collisions until the right molecule comes along to latch to, it seems impossible that enough interactions could ever happen for such a system to work. But when you take into account the short distances involved and the associated speed-up possible, it no longer seems so absurd. I must have read a little about this in Engines of Creation, but it wasn't developed in such detail. What I would have liked was a carefully thought out plan for precisely how modern molecular assembly (I'm thinking of how they use DNA and RNA to make structures) can be used to build atomically precise machines of the type he describes. Such machines seem to have two competing restrictions: they need to be as small as possible to make them assemblable (sp?) one atom at a time, but as large as possible to make them behave more like bulk materials than like chemistry. He makes some vague descriptions, but the technical detail is what I was looking for.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Nilesh

    Radical Abundance is difficult for non-specialists and fails further on anyone who has not read the author's previous work Engines of Creation. To start with, the book fails to vivify the usage of nanotechnology despite multiple attempts, partly due to the intricate complex ways in which nanotechnology creates huge benefits and partly due to the way the topic is addressed. Rather than providing a clear vision of a world where this technology dominates - say by hypothesizing the new cars or solar Radical Abundance is difficult for non-specialists and fails further on anyone who has not read the author's previous work Engines of Creation. To start with, the book fails to vivify the usage of nanotechnology despite multiple attempts, partly due to the intricate complex ways in which nanotechnology creates huge benefits and partly due to the way the topic is addressed. Rather than providing a clear vision of a world where this technology dominates - say by hypothesizing the new cars or solar panels or food could work in a world some decades away - the author tries to discuss the benefits through repeated benefits at material science levels. This could be because of the author's previous work which got misrepresented with rather fantastical visions, but the experience should have led the author to be more specific rather than less. The author spends too much time refuting various misrepresentations - again at rather technical levels - than clearly discussing what the technology is in layman's language. Other diversions into personal experiences also take away more from the book rather than add - once again due to the way the book is structured. Effectively, here is a book from a master who is almost not approachable simply because he knows a lot, has tremendous foresight but is unable to share with those not in the same league. Of course, an important topic where many could decipher far more than at least this reader could.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Jamie Archer

    The father of nanotechnology follows up his seminal book and shows how we're not far away from a manufacturing revolution that will change our lives forever. Forget artificial intelligence Atomic Precision Manufacturing is what will immediately change the world in the short and long term

  9. 4 out of 5

    Bill Leach

    This book is so full of unsubstantiated generalities, that it is unreadable. Some very strange ideas - the clashing concerns of science and engineering. I took nothing away from it.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Cary Giese

    Read this book to understand the implications of nanotechnology! The author, K Eric Drexler in his first book “Engines of Creation, In 1987, named the phenomenon now known as Nanotechnology. In this book and the previous one he postulates that Atomically Precise Manufacturing (APM) will change our world. He said:...”It will amount to a Version 2.0 of World Civilization, a change as profound as the Industrial Revolution, but unfolding at internet speed.” And...”we as a society would be well advised Read this book to understand the implications of nanotechnology! The author, K Eric Drexler in his first book “Engines of Creation, In 1987, named the phenomenon now known as Nanotechnology. In this book and the previous one he postulates that Atomically Precise Manufacturing (APM) will change our world. He said:...”It will amount to a Version 2.0 of World Civilization, a change as profound as the Industrial Revolution, but unfolding at internet speed.” And...”we as a society would be well advised to devote urgent and sober attention to the changes that lie ahead, taking into account of what can be known and the limits of knowledge as well.” What is Atomically Precise Manufacturing (APM)? It is the process of making materials by directing the assembly of atoms! It’s actually not new, our bodies now and always have done that. For example, our bodies’ proteins are manufactured by the stringing together amino acids directed by RNA messengers from our DNA. Another analogy: The information revolution came about when digits (0’s and 1’s) directed words, sounds, pictures to create and distribute information. The author asserts that APM is analogous. In 1987 he described assembly of atoms with a new process he called nanotechnology. He predicted that this technology would change manufacturing in ways that will be orders-of-magnitude cheaper, more rapid to build, with less human work requirement! So, what if we become “really good at making material things” by directing the assembly of atoms? ”Our relationship with the material world would change in ways beyond imagination, yet in some ways familiar.” For example, he analogizes that the digitally produced radical abundance of symphony and song—and words and images and more, has brought luxuries, that once required the wealth of a king, to ordinary people in billions of households. Then he postulates,...”it seems that our future holds a comparable technology driven transformation, enabled by nanoscale devices, but this time with atoms in place of bits.” “The revolution that follows can bring a radical abundance beyond the dreams of any king, a post-industrial material abundance that reaches the ends of the Earth and lightens it’s burden.” The author cannot be accused of having a small vision! But science is actively chasing his vision, e.g. patent offices around the world have been swamped with nanotechnology-related applications, though not necessarily APM! The author claims that the term nanotechnology has sometimes misused for marketing reasons. Drexler must be on to something grand indeed, his book only describes his thesis though APM is being validated steadily! Nonetheless it is clear that we are only-now finding our way. “It is imperative that national and international regulatory bodies, academia and industry endeavor to develop common terminology and uniform standards and to promulgate an effective framework for health and environmental risk assessment of this technology.” The question is? Can we keep this “genie in a bottle?” Is there really a genie? Do we want to keep her hidden? Or, should we just let her out? Wow! Add this to rapid advancement of other breakthrough technologies such as Artificial Intelligence and Gene Editing Tools like CRISPR-Cas9 and hold on for the ride of a partial life time, and then another partial, and then another, three rides per lifetime, at accelerating pace!! I was born in 1942, since then the world has become nuclear, humans went to the moon, we developed computing, digitalized data, sequenced the genome, connected the world with fiber, created the internet standards as made human connection ubiquitous worldwide, etc. And we ain’t seen nothing yet! Can we manage this much change if APM is real and the projections are accurate? I’m worried! Weaponization and/or unintended consequences are the principal risk! I hope we and our progeny are up to all of this rapid change!

  11. 4 out of 5

    Andrei Khrapavitski

    This book is about an incredibly exciting subject: nanotechnology. The field is booming and promising. The best way to start exploring it is probably by reading the father of the term itself. I'm afraid to report, this book was not a good read. I soldiered through pages and pages of repetitions and finally reached the end. The book is long and extremely monotonous. Dexler, who invented the term "nanotechnology," could've written something more exciting on his progeny... And yet if you are able to This book is about an incredibly exciting subject: nanotechnology. The field is booming and promising. The best way to start exploring it is probably by reading the father of the term itself. I'm afraid to report, this book was not a good read. I soldiered through pages and pages of repetitions and finally reached the end. The book is long and extremely monotonous. Dexler, who invented the term "nanotechnology," could've written something more exciting on his progeny... And yet if you are able to cope with the repetitiveness of the text, it is worth reading for those of you interested in Kurzweil's predictions and the potential of new technologies. If you're not as patient as me, many parts can easily be skipped.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Teresa

    I rarely abandon a book midway, but I just couldn't keep plodding on through this book. I knew when I began that it was an advanced topic, but I wasn't scared off by that awareness. In fact, I did not have difficulty understanding the material being presented, but the delivery was done in such a dry manner that since I am not in this field, I just didn't ever get hooked. Life is too short to force myself to finish a book when I give it an honest try and fail to find a connection, or have my curi I rarely abandon a book midway, but I just couldn't keep plodding on through this book. I knew when I began that it was an advanced topic, but I wasn't scared off by that awareness. In fact, I did not have difficulty understanding the material being presented, but the delivery was done in such a dry manner that since I am not in this field, I just didn't ever get hooked. Life is too short to force myself to finish a book when I give it an honest try and fail to find a connection, or have my curiosity piqued sufficiently to commit to completion. So, regrettably this review has not much to offer directly about the material. I remain curious about the topic and will look for other books to give me insight into the topic and how it will transform us.

  13. 4 out of 5

    K-dizzle

    This book is a very good broad overview of APM technology and what it will be able to do one day in the future. However, it offers very little in terms of specific developments, emerging areas or topics that need more research in order to make radical abundance a reality. Saying that, I did love the way the author describes the difference between engineering and research, and will be using that same analogies when I teach my students.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Ken Hamner

    Definitely not my favorite book. The subject is complicated, and this book did little to untangle the knot.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Oliver

    I couldn’t get into this book. Author talks about his past experiences rather than about the subject

  16. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    This book has incredible, paradigm-shifting ideas. At the same time, the style of writing is at times obtuse, long-winded, and incredibly repetitive. Still, I highly recommend that everyone read it.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan Jeckell

    A surprising portion of this book was not actually about the technology behind nanotechnology…oops, sorry, Atomically Precise Manufacturing (APM). The author begins by explaining how he became interested with the topic, and explained how research got ironically got completely derailed by the hype that surrounded nanotechnology in the 1990s in addition to explaining the technology and its feasibility. Unrealistic expectations, researchers jumping on the bandwagon with unrelated research to obtain A surprising portion of this book was not actually about the technology behind nanotechnology…oops, sorry, Atomically Precise Manufacturing (APM). The author begins by explaining how he became interested with the topic, and explained how research got ironically got completely derailed by the hype that surrounded nanotechnology in the 1990s in addition to explaining the technology and its feasibility. Unrealistic expectations, researchers jumping on the bandwagon with unrelated research to obtain funding for their programs, and weird hysteria about “grey goo” taking over the world all made nanotechnology seem like a fad. So he goes to great pains to call what he is proposing “atomically precise manufacturing” and showing how it differs from previous hype. For example, some forms of atomically precise manufacturing are already with us in biochemistry, the pharmaceutical industry, and other places. He makes a fantastic case that this technology is feasible and will make really useful things. He also gives one of the most lucid descriptions of the differences between scientists and engineers, and how these two groups overlap, that I have ever heard. But he also makes a valiant, but naïve attempt to discuss the societal impact of APM and the sudden shift of economies and politics in an era of “radical abundance.” He describes the tectonic shifts in employment and investment, the dislocations of many existing professions, etc. So far, so good. I can even accept his claim that many raw materials will be less important (oil, iron, etc.) because APM can synthesize better alternatives (such as ultra-strong composites in lieu of steel and super cheap photovoltaic solar in lieu of oil). Ok, maybe. But then he described the national security implications of all of this. He evidently overestimates the importance of resources as a cause for war and grossly underestimates other reasons, such as ideology. He also described the importance of international scientific collaboration in developing nano, er APM because of the severe risks of paranoia, dangerous arms races and misunderstandings. Because APM accelerates design cycle times and can make dangerous things very quickly, one nation could never be sure that another wouldn’t develop overwhelming capabilities overnight. Perhaps that is true, but if it is, that is precisely why at least *one* nation would do just that. This is a classic Prisoners’ Dilemma from game theory. Everyone that cooperates gains, but anyone who defects and screws everyone else over hits the jackpot. His policy recommendations were also aggravating. He says because someone *might* make something dangerous with APM, that it should be tightly regulated by the government. That virtually assures that research will be kept out of reach of anyone outside giant laboratories who will entrench their organization’s power. It will also assure that no fresh thinking enters the field and it will converge into a groupthink love fest. This would be a horrible mistake that would deter real innovation. This advice is kind of odd and contrasts with the praise he heaped on open source and public programs like FoldIt, where people can fold proteins for fun on their computer, but the results produce real scientific benefit. How about a game based on his APM design software where anyone can design a nano-device for fun, like Kerbal Space Program? The products people make could be put into a big open source library of stuff people made and sifted through by anyone interested for things that might actually be useful. It would be like having a genetic algorithm generate all kinds of options to see if it makes something useful, but scores of people would be trying to do that intentionally. I really enjoyed (most of) the book and look forward to seeing the benefits this can bring to the world, but it was marred by timid advice I hope gets ignored on restricting access to the technology, and I would like to see someone think through the really serious national security implications to prevent his darkest predictions from coming true.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Paul M.

    Just a few months ago, I read Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, a fantastic novel about a future where atomically precise nanotechnology is the norm and civilization as we know it has moved from nations to self-determined enclaves. One of the scientific heroes of this world is K. Eric Drexler, one of the real-life pioneers of nanotechnology, and this book, Radical Abundance, is his take on the past, present, and future of this technology. He is not talking specifically about nanotechnology as w Just a few months ago, I read Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age, a fantastic novel about a future where atomically precise nanotechnology is the norm and civilization as we know it has moved from nations to self-determined enclaves. One of the scientific heroes of this world is K. Eric Drexler, one of the real-life pioneers of nanotechnology, and this book, Radical Abundance, is his take on the past, present, and future of this technology. He is not talking specifically about nanotechnology as we usually use the term (meaning small-scale tech, and he talks a lot about how, in his view, such an approach to small-scale materials has hijacked research and press from his focus), but rather what he calls atomically precise manufacturing, or atomic machinery that can be used to make materials and, ultimately, other machines. Drexler's vision is of a world where we can make just about any material faster, cheaper, stronger, and better, all with these molecular-scale machines. He shares the history of this technology, and his role in it, and discusses all the progress going on behind the scenes. As for the future, he envisions a society fundamentally remade by better, cheaper materials, which can help us with energy and water crises while bettering the standard of living world-round. Futurists like Ray Kurzweil cite Drexler's work, but in this book, Drexler steers clear of things like the singularity, focusing instead on a physical abundance (the direct products of these processes), where what is basically the ultimate 3D printing process possible makes sure we always have enough of everything at a fraction of today's costs. However, Drexler recognizes there is a long road, and I got the feeling while I read that his main goal was to inspire future researchers. Although he writes for a general audience, and does not expect much previous knowledge in the way of physics (this biology grad could follow it), the book still has a somewhat technical feel, and some of the debates going on, while interesting, don't have the same effect on an outside reader, like myself. For example, he discusses the important distinctions between science and engineering, and how his project requires advances in both, but especially the approach of the latter. This is an interesting and important division that I had never thought about much, but he really wanted us to understand it, so a few chapters focus on this idea. However, once I muscled through those parts, I was left hopeful that this technology could come to fruition in my lifetime, but, at the same time, I won't plan on seeing it either. It seems to good to be true, but Drexler has shown that maybe, just maybe, it isn't.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Murali Behara

    Let me first say that if you've read Neil Greshenfield's FAB, this is much more informative and promising when it comes to, how to make just about anything, one atom at a time(AMP)! Now I've added the infamous 'Engines of Creation', to my "To Read" list! Thought I'd mention that, I was thrilled in read Eric Drexel's fine attempt (in Chapter7) to recite the poetry of the origins (Cosmology / Biology). He says, "....physics describes supernovae that scattered the dust that formed planets around st Let me first say that if you've read Neil Greshenfield's FAB, this is much more informative and promising when it comes to, how to make just about anything, one atom at a time(AMP)! Now I've added the infamous 'Engines of Creation', to my "To Read" list! Thought I'd mention that, I was thrilled in read Eric Drexel's fine attempt (in Chapter7) to recite the poetry of the origins (Cosmology / Biology). He says, "....physics describes supernovae that scattered the dust that formed planets around stars..... and eons later on a planet simmered in sun light for a third of known time, a species emerged with hands and minds....... and within my grandfather's generation humans have made instruments to understand the hardness of stone, the light in a star and even the structure of universe....." Then Eric continues to sing the praise of Technology, "..... we hurl telescopes past the moon, shield them from the sun, chill them colder than space, and take pictures of faint light, from incandescent dawn of known time"! Guess he's also hinting that our species have existed for about 5,000 generations and we have learned most about origins and did most extraordinary things, in the last one hundred years! Then there is serious educational stuff that captures imagination like AMP based materials can thermo-dynamically capture and compress CO2 from Air and the energy required can be supplied by Photovoltiacs spread across an area less than 0.5% of Sahara desert, and within a decade atmospheric CO2 can be dropped to pre-industrial levels, which means reversing the global warming within a decade! The book goes a great deal into the politics of Nanotechnology (referencing Nat. Nanotechnology Initiative) and this is something, interesting. Apparently Richard Smalley, Nobel winner (Chemistry) for discovery of Fullerenes, spoke out against Darwin!!! But Dr. Smalley is not joking, when he's talking about the energy strategy. Brilliant man and I'm very intrigued about his noble origins! Over all, if you are a regular reader of Scientific American periodical, most of the stuff in here is not much new, but who is associated with what, is educational! The last few chapters were very tedious, but this nevertheless is an important piece of writing about nanotech.

  20. 5 out of 5

    John

    A Riveting Look into the Future Potential of Nanotechnology from its “Father” Back in 1986 K. Eric Drexler coined the term “Nanotechnology” in his first book, “Engines of Creation”. He defined nanotechnology as a potential technology with these features: “manufacturing using machinery based on nanoscale devices, and products built with atomic precision”. Here in his sequel, “Radical Abundance: How A Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization”, Drexler expands on his prior thinking, as A Riveting Look into the Future Potential of Nanotechnology from its “Father” Back in 1986 K. Eric Drexler coined the term “Nanotechnology” in his first book, “Engines of Creation”. He defined nanotechnology as a potential technology with these features: “manufacturing using machinery based on nanoscale devices, and products built with atomic precision”. Here in his sequel, “Radical Abundance: How A Revolution in Nanotechnology Will Change Civilization”, Drexler expands on his prior thinking, as well as correcting much of the misconceptions regarding the exact nature of nanotechnology, dismissing fears of a dystopian future replete with nanobots and other evil outcomes associated with nanotechnology. Instead, Drexler offers readers a most compelling, optimistic vision as to how nanotechnology can be used to benefit humanity, in grappling with issues as vexing as dealing with pollution and climate change and in making tremendous strides in improving medicine so it can benefit much of humanity. Drexler begins by offering us a brief history of technology and its relationship with science, emphasizing the importance of Karl Popper’s philosophy of science as a means for influencing the future direction of nanotechnology. In his advocacy of atomically precise manufacturing, Drexler notes how engineers should adhere to common sense solutions to engineering problems, by crafting solutions that are both consistent and efficient with regards to science and engineering and yield truly useful products, not prototypes destined to languish almost forgotten in the technological research centers that conceived of them. Much to his credit, Drexler is a fine writer who has written compelling, quite readable, prose that remains crisp and clear from the first page to the last, despite relying on seemingly arcane terms of science and technology that may be unfamiliar to most of his potential readership. “Radical Abundance’ is one of the most thoughtful ruminations on the future of technology I have read, and a book that should be viewed as among the best published in science and technology this year; it is most certainly a book that should be as well received as his prior “Engines of Creation”.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Peter (Pete) Mcloughlin

    I came across Eric Drexler in another book "Engines of Creation" in the late nineties. This was my first introduction to the idea of nanotechnology. It was my first inkling that the future may be very different from the past beyond our wildest dreams and our worst nightmares. The promise and peril of nanotechnology is looming closer as we start the first few steps in the early applications of making new materials. The further development of this technology could as the title of the book explains I came across Eric Drexler in another book "Engines of Creation" in the late nineties. This was my first introduction to the idea of nanotechnology. It was my first inkling that the future may be very different from the past beyond our wildest dreams and our worst nightmares. The promise and peril of nanotechnology is looming closer as we start the first few steps in the early applications of making new materials. The further development of this technology could as the title of the book explains transform our societies where scarcity (ameliorated for some in 20th century) will be abolished in a radically changed world of abundance. I don't know if the nanotechnology will pan out the way described in the book. It is a good idea to look at the information revolution and how it changed our lives as a prelude to what is to come. The information revolution is currently making music, news, print and video almost free. For a consumer who used to have to travel miles to a decent library to look something up and study a topic can now find out almost anything with a mouse click. The information revolution has wiped out jobs and destroyed or transformed industries (think music and newspapers). Now imagine what those industries are going through and apply it to the economy as a whole. Drexler doesn't spend too much time on this but what happens when the economy needs a minimal labor force to chug away and provide goods and services. What happens to all those extra people. This is a political question and not the subject necessarily of this book but it will become more pressing as the technologies come on line which will shed most jobs from the workforce. It may not play out the way I describe but it is certainly a real possibility that we could face a workerless economy. This is a serious economic and political game-changer and we will have to tread carefully as the changes come maybe transform the value of human beings for being workers to some other rubric. It could be a serious problem.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Scott Moore

    Not as earth shattering as I'd hoped. • Parts 1 & 2 were good; setting the evolution of technology in perspective, and explaining the "nanoscale world" in sizes and times that I could understand. • Part 3 was an entirely different book, discussing the different approaches and aims of engineers vs. scientists. It was a cool perspective, but not what I was expecting in this book (necessary, perhaps, but it felt like a detour). • Part 4 started to bring it back, beginning to talk about potential machi Not as earth shattering as I'd hoped. • Parts 1 & 2 were good; setting the evolution of technology in perspective, and explaining the "nanoscale world" in sizes and times that I could understand. • Part 3 was an entirely different book, discussing the different approaches and aims of engineers vs. scientists. It was a cool perspective, but not what I was expecting in this book (necessary, perhaps, but it felt like a detour). • Part 4 started to bring it back, beginning to talk about potential machines and products. • But part 5 seemed to really go off on a rant of how Drexler feels (correctly, perhaps) that his vision of Nanotechnology was hijacked and corrupted by wild speculation, ignorant fear, and a screwy system for securing scientific grants. I'm sorry you were offended by what other people did with your vision, Dr. Drexler, but I found this section to be mind-numbingly dull and irrelevant to the promise of the book. • Part 6 brought it home, but felt like too little too late. This was the last ~50 pages that finally discussed managing "radical abundance", and what would happen to society and economics if things became radically cheap to make rapidly at extremely high quality. I couldn't bring myself to read the appendices after all of that but, skimming them, they look promising. If someone had told me the above, I would have skipped parts 3-5, and would probably have given this book 4 stars.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Sean Bullock

    This book should be a slap in the face reality call to the Singulitarian/transhumanist crowd. "There is something that I feel I must say to some of my readers. And I hope that they will understand a somewhat counterintuitive message and take it to heart. If you find these ideas about perspective technologies compelling, convincing, and exciting; if you imagine vistas far beyond any I've outlined or see solutions to urgent global problems and feel the urge to share the full measure of your excitem This book should be a slap in the face reality call to the Singulitarian/transhumanist crowd. "There is something that I feel I must say to some of my readers. And I hope that they will understand a somewhat counterintuitive message and take it to heart. If you find these ideas about perspective technologies compelling, convincing, and exciting; if you imagine vistas far beyond any I've outlined or see solutions to urgent global problems and feel the urge to share the full measure of your excitement, then please lie down until the urge passes. In the world as it is, this kind of excitement triggers a negative response. And for reasons that usually make sense, almost all grand ideas proclaimed by excited proponents turn out to be wrong and are generally discounted without consideration. If you want to make a positive difference, please help to keep fundamentals first. Help to correct mistaken ideas and join the conversation without shouting. And for other readers, please help to keep enthusiasts grounded and remind everyone else that feverish misinformed people must not be aloud to set the agenda by provoking a backlash or by fostering a kind of guilt by association. To allow this would amount to granting such people the power to control the agenda, but with a minus sign. This has happened before and must not happen again." Eric Drexler - Radical Abundance

  24. 5 out of 5

    B

    This book wasn't bad, but it wasn't quite the intro to nanotechnology (or atomically precise manufacturing) that I'd hoped. Instead, Drexler spends a lot of time focusing on clarifying precisely what the field that he founded actually is focused on (hence the name "atomically precise manufacturing" instead of "nanotechnology" to clear up some confusion). This is completely understandable for various reasons, but my main frustration was that he skipped around so much; instead of just having a sec This book wasn't bad, but it wasn't quite the intro to nanotechnology (or atomically precise manufacturing) that I'd hoped. Instead, Drexler spends a lot of time focusing on clarifying precisely what the field that he founded actually is focused on (hence the name "atomically precise manufacturing" instead of "nanotechnology" to clear up some confusion). This is completely understandable for various reasons, but my main frustration was that he skipped around so much; instead of just having a section clearing up the confusion and carefully defining his work, he skipped around between describing APM and criticizing those who have misused the word "nanotechnology." However, I am convinced that the (much more limited) goals of Drexler's original idea in Engines of Creation will be capable of a lot in the next few years/decades. I still would like to read a better quick introduction to nanotechnology in general.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Ned Hanlon

    What a depressing book. Gone are the optimistic flights of fancy of his seminal Engines of Creation (written 30 years earlier). It's replaced with a caution and even (at times) bitterness that seems intended to crush imagination. If the epochal shift that Drexler believes is coming looks anything like the one in this book it will be the most boring watershed moment in all of history! Perhaps it is difficult to be an aging futurist. You are going to be constantly wrong in predictions but that shou What a depressing book. Gone are the optimistic flights of fancy of his seminal Engines of Creation (written 30 years earlier). It's replaced with a caution and even (at times) bitterness that seems intended to crush imagination. If the epochal shift that Drexler believes is coming looks anything like the one in this book it will be the most boring watershed moment in all of history! Perhaps it is difficult to be an aging futurist. You are going to be constantly wrong in predictions but that should not matter. In that respect a futurist has to be like a cornerback in football. It doesn't matter if he guessed wrong and the wide receiver got behind him for a touchdown. Just go out an make the next play as if nothing happened. Paradoxically, a short (or at least selective) memory is vital! I would not suggest this book to anyone except to be read in tandem with Engines of Creation as a study of crushed dreams.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Karel Baloun

    "System possibility engineering" was one good concept -- map out what is possible, as a path towards smart applications of available technology. Clearly Drexler would like to do that. Yet this work severely lacks depth of research, research, and any engineering or scientific detail. Instead it was repetitive and full of personal history and loose uses of jargon. I hope someone deep in the trenches of cutting edge apm work writes. For example, "APM-level technologies can provide thermodynamically e "System possibility engineering" was one good concept -- map out what is possible, as a path towards smart applications of available technology. Clearly Drexler would like to do that. Yet this work severely lacks depth of research, research, and any engineering or scientific detail. Instead it was repetitive and full of personal history and loose uses of jargon. I hope someone deep in the trenches of cutting edge apm work writes. For example, "APM-level technologies can provide thermodynamically efficient means of capturing and compressing CO2 from the air" is one of a hundred broad (almost dilbert-esque) statements without any support. We'd all love some basis for advancing towards making that statement true.

  27. 4 out of 5

    James Eastwood

    Drexler's vision for Atomically Precise Manufacturing (he's all but stopped using the term "nanotechnology" because of the confusion that's spiraled around it) is still imminently compelling -- I'm convinced more than ever that it's the technical pursuit that will obviate all others. Too bad his writing is dense and meandering. I was able to follow his reasoning, but only as a particularly well-informed reader with technical training in related fields, a strong interest in the field and familiar Drexler's vision for Atomically Precise Manufacturing (he's all but stopped using the term "nanotechnology" because of the confusion that's spiraled around it) is still imminently compelling -- I'm convinced more than ever that it's the technical pursuit that will obviate all others. Too bad his writing is dense and meandering. I was able to follow his reasoning, but only as a particularly well-informed reader with technical training in related fields, a strong interest in the field and familiarity with existing thought, and a history of reading Drexler's blog. I don't know that this book would be accessible to the broader audience for whom he intended it. To find out, I gave it to my wife, but she hasn't read it yet: support for my fear that it's inaccessible.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy

    Eric Drexler's intention of the book is to preach his believe in using atomically precise manufacturing (APM) in the field of nanotechnology ... which he sees that as an upcoming human history revolution after the previous three ... agricultural, industrial and information. He also prepared the readers (who are expected to have reasonable science knowledge or interest) with some chapters on various background understanding in science and engineering, then guide them to his view and vision of the Eric Drexler's intention of the book is to preach his believe in using atomically precise manufacturing (APM) in the field of nanotechnology ... which he sees that as an upcoming human history revolution after the previous three ... agricultural, industrial and information. He also prepared the readers (who are expected to have reasonable science knowledge or interest) with some chapters on various background understanding in science and engineering, then guide them to his view and vision of the how APM can be achieved and what it can produce in future to benefit different fields of science. I tend to perceive the author as an evangelist in nanotechnology, which in particular this book is to emphasis the importance of APM in realizing such.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Grant Welby

    Drexler's Radical Abundance is an interesting perspective on Atomically Precise Manufacturing (APM). The imagery he uses to describe APM is vivid, but at times he gets bogged down in the details. Paradoxically, he falls short in his explanation of the political and social ramifications of nanotech. He seems to withdraw from his previous assertions about nanobots in Engines of Creation, likely due to widespread criticism of the dangers of that technology. He addresses the much-hyped grey-goo phen Drexler's Radical Abundance is an interesting perspective on Atomically Precise Manufacturing (APM). The imagery he uses to describe APM is vivid, but at times he gets bogged down in the details. Paradoxically, he falls short in his explanation of the political and social ramifications of nanotech. He seems to withdraw from his previous assertions about nanobots in Engines of Creation, likely due to widespread criticism of the dangers of that technology. He addresses the much-hyped grey-goo phenomenon only once or twice in the book, and because he backtracks from some of the bolder claims of his earlier work, this feels more tentative and less inspirational. Still worth a read.

  30. 5 out of 5

    GONZA

    Book interesting and well written, but my limited intelligence and lack of culture prevented me from understanding it in its entirety, however, the future promises big things for us, if everything goes as it should, of course! Libro interessante e ben scritto, se non fosse che la mia limitata intelligenza e scarsa cultura mi hanno impedito di comprenderlo in toto, comunque il futuro promette grosse cose per noi, se tutto va come dovrebbe ovviamente! Thanks to Perseus Books Group, PublicAffairs Boo Book interesting and well written, but my limited intelligence and lack of culture prevented me from understanding it in its entirety, however, the future promises big things for us, if everything goes as it should, of course! Libro interessante e ben scritto, se non fosse che la mia limitata intelligenza e scarsa cultura mi hanno impedito di comprenderlo in toto, comunque il futuro promette grosse cose per noi, se tutto va come dovrebbe ovviamente! Thanks to Perseus Books Group, PublicAffairs Books and Netgalley for the preview!

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