Abstract for the Fourth Foresight Conference on Molecular Nanotechnology.

Self-assembly, Virtual fields, and Matter as Software

          Johann Schleier-Smith and James C. Ellenbogen, Ph.D.
                          Nanosystems Group
                        The MITRE Corporation
                          McLean, VA  22101
                     Internet:  ellenbgn@mitre.org
Simple graphical simulation experiments were conducted to explore minimum requirements for the self-assembly of motile, programmable micro-robots or nano-robots into more complex structures. Using quite simple rules, fixed numbers of identical simulated micro-devices were induced under distributed control to fabricate a variety of simple structures. In fact, self-assembly behaviors proved to be quite robust and rapidly convergent using several strategies modeled after embryological processes. In the initial self-assembly simulation experiments, physical concentration gradients or fields were assumed to be present to assist the micro-devices in orienting themselves as they formed a structure. It was discovered, however, that the orienting external, physical field could be replaced by an orienting spatial map that was generated via a distributed computing process. This map existed only in software within the micro-devices' memories. These "virtual fields" proved effective for promoting self-assembly of structures by simple, motile, micro-robots. The speaker will describe and illustrate in detail the experiments outlined above. In addition, he will explain in some detail how self-assembling micro-devices with on-board nano-computers might be used to create a technology in which matter will acquire desirable physical and economic properties much like those of software.