History of Nanotechnology - Conceptual Origins - K. Eric Drexler

K. Eric Drexler

In the 1980s the idea of nanotechnology as a deterministic, rather than stochastic, handling of individual atoms and molecules was conceptually explored in depth by K. Eric Drexler, who promoted the technological significance of nano-scale phenomena and devices through speeches and two influential books.

In 1979, Drexler encountered Feynman's provocative 1959 talk "There's Plenty of Room at the Bottom" . The term "nanotechnology", which had been coined by Taniguchi in 1974, was unknowingly appropriated by Drexler in his 1986 book Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology, which proposed the idea of a nanoscale "assembler" which would be able to build a copy of itself and of other items of arbitrary complexity. He also first published the term "grey goo" to describe what might happen if a hypothetical self-replicating molecular nanotechnology went out of control. Drexler's vision of nanotechnology is often called "Molecular Nanotechnology" (MNT) or "molecular manufacturing." and Drexler at one point proposed the term "zettatech" which never became popular.

His 1991 Ph.D. work at the MIT Media Lab was the first doctoral degree on the topic of molecular nanotechnology and (after some editing) his thesis, "Molecular Machinery and Manufacturing with Applications to Computation," was published as Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing, and Computation, which received the Association of American Publishers award for Best Computer Science Book of 1992. Drexler founded the Foresight Institute in 1986 with the mission of "Preparing for nanotechnology.” Drexler is no longer a member of the Foresight Institute.

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