K. Eric Drexler
Episode #3 of the course “Significant futurists and their ideas”
K. Eric Drexler is an American scientist who is most famous for inventing and expanding on the concept of molecular technology, or nanotechnology. As the fields of science were rapidly expanding in the mid-20th century, Drexler was studying at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) about the possibilities of space travel with solar sails. Inspired by the work being done on materials for space travel that were micrometers or nanometers thick, he began to envision tiny machines that could self-replicate and replicate other materials, in the same way that nano-biological processes performed by DNA and RNA happen. Drexler received the first ever PhD in Molecular Nanotechnology from MIT in 1991.
Drexler’s PhD dissertation was edited and republished as the book Nanosystems: Molecular Machinery, Manufacturing and Computation. Although it won awards, it also sparked a great debate surrounding the idea of molecular manufacturing. Some scholars and scientists more widely versed in chemical processes have been outraged by Drexler’s assertions; other academics believe that he has stumbled onto the secret to future technology and human capability. Drexler himself postulated on the negative potential of such a technology and its capacity for dominance of matter without direction from a human source. Drexler proposed that, in a worst-case scenario, the nanotechnology could become self-governing and deconstruct matter into an amorphous and uncontrollable “grey goo.”
The writings and theories of Eric Drexler remain highly inspirational and influential throughout the fields of engineering, medical science, physics, and computational science. Many have postulated that nanotechnology could be used to cure disease, to stabilize the world’s water supply, and to aid in the most efficient food production in history. However, the work in the field of molecular nanotechnology remains ongoing and incomplete.
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