Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology by Eric Drexler
In the late 1980s, a new word began to be whispered around the scientific community. That word was nanotechnology, and it was going to change the world around us. Nanotech would be able to do anything, from building structures practically out of thin air to curing cancer and disease to revolutionizing our leisure time.
Well, we're almost 20 years from that time, and so far we haven't seemed to come any closer to realizing that dream. There had to be a starting point, however, and this book, one of the first to be written on the subject, was certainly ahead of its time.
Eric Drexler believed that tiny machines, called nanobots, would be able to manipulate the very molecules from which our world is made. Therefore, you could take trash and turn it into building materials or even more useful items.
In addition, these tiny robots could reproduce, thus making them self-sufficient, which would be important if they were sent to Mars, for example, to conduct terraforming. Computer programming would direct billions and billions of these robots, all working in concert with each other, to do tasks and perform feats which would seem unimaginable even now.
A doctor could use them to go into a patient's body and destroy only cancerous cells while leaving healthy cells behind. Or, if a person was near death, they could be frozen with the hope that in the future, nanotech would be able to repair the cell damage and make them live again.
The author goes into the science of how the nanobots would exist and how they would interact both with us and each other. He splits the book into three sections.
The first, The Foundations of Foresight, go into the basis of this technology and how it will come to be. The second, Profiles of the Possible, takes us through a number of scenarios and exposes us to various futures that nanotech could help to create. As with many forms of cutting-edge science, there is always a possible downside and in the third section, Dangers and Hopes, the author brings forth what those dangers could be and how we could get past them.
All the while, the book maintains nothing less than a decidedly optimistic tone as to how soon this technology would be arriving and how soon we could be exploiting it. As it turned out, of course, it hasn't arrived yet, for a variety of reasons, many of which have to do with the fact that science has not found a way (yet) to manipulate matter at the level at which the book's technology is dependant on, nor have we found a way to program something so small at such a level as to make it independent of control.
More contemporary books address some of those issues, but as this was the first popular science book to really talk about nanotech, it is certainly breathtaking in the sense that the author really believed many of these ideas would come to pass soon. As the field is still evolving at an ever quickening rate, we can only hope that even a small portion of what is predicted in the book comes true. The Engines of Creation is an excellent read, and it is a
visionary book (for its time) as to what could be in store for all of us not too long from now.
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