Design considerations for an assembler



Ralph C. Merkle
Xerox PARC
3333 Coyote Hill Road
Palo Alto, CA 94304

This is an abstract for a talk given at the Fourth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology.

The full article is available at

An associated article discussing the design of binding sites is also available.

It is now generally accepted that nanotechnology is feasible and will likely be developed in the coming decades. However, there is still uncertainty about what molecular manufacturing systems will look like and even greater uncertainty about how best to proceed in developing such systems. This uncertainty is not aided by the fact that many different development pathways are likely to work, and that to a significant extent the selection of a specific pathway is arbitrary. Further, as our present vantage point suggests that all pathways will require at least a few major stages, the analysis of the advantages and disadvantages of alternative paths is rendered complex. We try to reduce this complexity by presenting and discussing a "simple" molecular manufacturing system.

The direct manufacture of this "simple" system with current technology seems unlikely to be feasible. As a consequence, it will probably be necessary to develop systems that are easier to synthesize using today's methods, but which are sufficiently powerful that we can use them to synthesize more sophisticated systems. This might be likened to the ascent of a tall mountain in stages, with base camps established at intermediate elevations. The precise nature of these intermediate stages depends on the design of the final stage. The present proposal might be likened to a final base camp, close enough to the peak that it's clear that a final assault from this final base camp would reach the peak, but far enough removed that it's significantly easier to reach the base camp than the peak.

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