Engines of Creation

Thanks to BookMooch, I was able to pick up a used copy of Engines of Creation, Eric Drexler‘s excellent book on nanotechnology. It’s been on my reading list for years, and I’m glad that I’ve finally gotten around to reading it. My only complaint it’s more speculative and less hard science than I was expecting. I probably expected too much from a 20 year old book.

The material that the book did cover is quite interesting. Imagine machines smaller than blood cells able to fix virtually any disease or wound. Imagine computers millions or billions of times more powerful than today’s machines. Imagine skyscrapers growing out of the ground like weeds. Imagine no more hunger or thirst. All of these things can be made a reality with nanotech.

Of course, any technology powerful enough to do all of the above could also be extremely destructive. The extinction of all life on Earth could be just the beginning. Genetic engineering and artificial intelligence bring similar risks and rewards. (Actually, all three technologies feed on each other making the situation even more perilous.) Drexler does a good job of recognizing the problem and suggesting solutions.

One of the most interesting ideas discussed in the book is hypertext. In 1986, hypertext was still new technology, primarily in development at universities and research institutions. That all changed with the popularization of the World Wide Web. Now, hypertext is part of everyday life. The web that we use today (with wikis, blogs, videos, search engines, web applications, etc…) is even more powerful than the cross-referenced books imagined in Engines of Creation. I suspect this will also be true of the future technologies that we can only dream of today.

For more information on the safe development of these types of technologies, see:
Foresight Institute
Singularity Institute

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