Eric Drexler: Techno-prophet Outcast?

What’s happened to the godfather of nanotechnology, K. Eric Drexler?

“[T]here have always been scientists who considered Drexler part of the lunatic fringe. Six months before the NanoSummit [held in June 2004 in Washington, DC], his critics landed what may be a decisive one-two punch. On December 1, the technical journal Chemical and Engineering News published a series of letters between Drexler and Smalley in which the Nobelist made his position clear: Molecular assembly is impossible. ‘Chemistry of the complexity, richness, and precision needed to come anywhere close to making a molecular assembler – let alone a self-replicating assembler – cannot be done simply by mushing two molecular objects together,’ Smalley wrote.

It was a public takedown from the man fast replacing Drexler as nano’s leading light. But Smalley wasn’t done. In remarks so overheated that they bordered on bizarre, he accused Drexler of terrorizing the world with the prospect that self-reproducing assemblers might escape the lab and devour everything in their path, turning the Earth into an inert, undifferentiated blob of gray goo.

‘You and people around you have scared our children,’ Smalley fairly shouted in print. ‘I don’t expect you to stop, but I hope others in the chemical community will join with me in turning on the light and showing our children that, while our future in the real world will be challenging and there are real risks, there will be no such monster as the self-replicating mechanical nanobot of your dreams.'”

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