Engines of Creation

Engines of Creation: The Coming Era of Nanotechnology
Author K. Eric Drexler
Publisher Doubleday
Publication date 1986
ISBN 0-385-19973-2

Engines of Creation is a seminal molecular nanotechnology book written by K. Eric Drexler in 1986. The foreword is by Marvin Minsky of MIT. Minsky states, “Engines of Creation begins with the insight that what we can do depends on what we can build. This leads to a careful analysis of possible ways to stack atoms.” Thus far, Engines of Creation has been translated into Japanese, French, Spanish, Italian, Russian, and Chinese.[1]

Engines of Creation is unique for its style and substance. It makes oblique literary references while delving deep into theoretical science. Examples being the section on hypertext references the Samuel Taylor Coleridge poem Xanadu: The Ballad of Kubla Khan while discussing the concepts first developed by the Project Xanadu while never mentioning Coleridge by name. A section on life extension is entitled “Worlds Enough And Time” but never names the Andrew Marvell poem from which the phrase is adapted (“To His Coy Mistress“).

The substance of Engines of Creation is extraordinary. Various science fiction writers have used the concept of tiny machines and Drexler brings their wild tales to shame. He extrapolates a world from the bottom up where we can build atom by atom. Similarly and inspirationally, physicist Richard Feynman discussed the concept of recursive miniaturisation in his 1959 speech There’s Plenty of Room at the Bottom. But only Drexler came up with the idea of using molecular machinery for large-scale fabrication. Drexler sees a world where not only can the entire Library of Congress fit a chip the size of a sugar cube, but “universal assemblers” (tiny machines that build atom by atom) will be used for everything from medicinal robots that help clear the capillaries to environmental scrubbers that clear pollutants from the air.

Engines of Creation (Chapter 10, Limits to Growth) takes a realistic Malthusian view of exponential growth within limits to growth. It also promotes space advocacy arguing that, because the universe is essentially infinite, life can escape the limits to growth defined by Earth. Additionally, Engines of Creation supports a form of the Fermi paradox, arguing that as there is no evidence of alien civilizations:

Thus for now, and perhaps forever, we can make plans for our future without concern for limits imposed by other civilizations

It is in this book Drexler first published his famous prediction of what might happen if a molecular nanotechnology were used to build uncontrollable self-replicating machines – the “gray goo” scenario.

With the publication of Engines of Creation Drexler founded the first group for preparing society for molecular nanotechnology. Drexler took the unusual step of securing permission from the publisher to include the post office box for the Foresight Institute, a group that did not yet exist. Drexler is no longer with the Foresight Institute.

Engines of Creation is often abbreviated “EOC” in online discussions.

In addition, Drexler’s 1992 book, Nanosystems: molecular machinery, manufacturing, and computation, (ISBN 0-471-57518-6) is a much more technical treatment of similar material. Nanosystems addresses chemical, thermodynamic, and other constraints on nanotechnology and manufacturing.

Engines of Creation 2.0, which includes more recent papers and publications, was published as a free ebook on February 8, 2007.

Organization

  • Chapter 1: Engines of Construction
  • Chapter 2: The Principles of Change
  • Chapter 3: Predicting and Projecting
  • Chapter 4: Engines of Abundance
  • Chapter 5: Thinking Machines
  • Chapter 6: The World Beyond Earth
  • Chapter 7: Engines of Healing
  • Chapter 8: Long Life in an Open World
  • Chapter 9: A Door to the Future
  • Chapter 10: The Limits to Growth
  • Chapter 11: Engines of Destruction
  • Chapter 12: Strategies and Survival
  • Chapter 13: Finding the Facts
  • Chapter 14: The Network of Knowledge
  • Chapter 15: Worlds Enough, and Time

External links

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