Alcor Conference – Ralph Merkle

[Alcor Conference – Table of Contents]


Nanotechnology. Once only an obscure buzzword among fringe techno-progressives, nanotechnology has emerged both as a multi-billion dollar industry and a controversial technology that could lead, according to some, to a prosperous future of plenty, or, according to others, the destruction of the Earth. The word has become increasingly tied to modern, market available structures measured in nanometers and included in goods to provide properties not possible with larger scale materials.

Originally, however, nanotechnology referred to something now called molecular manufacturing. These are nano-sized devices, including computing and mechanical, that can, among other capabilities, manipulate individual atoms and perform computation. This technology is an important area of inquiry for those interested in cryonics because it could be the very technology used to restore cryopreserved individuals to life.

Ralph Merkle is a noted expert in the field of nanotechnology. He discussed “Molecular Nanotechnology and the Repair of Cryopreserved Patients.”

His definition for nanotechnology includes the arrangement of atoms in “most of the ways permitted by physical law,” get them in the right place, and decrease manufacturing costs to not much more than the cost of the raw materials and energy. Important to cryonics is the ability to position atoms where needs, in hopes of repairing damage and rebuilding healthy bodies.

This enabling technology is called positional assembly. Diamond is a suggested material for building these tools. By making use of just a select few elements like hydrogen, carbon, and germanium nearly limitless types of structures could theoretically be created. To support this idea, Merkle and Rob Freitas have been exploring minimal toolsets by using simulation software. The nine tools they propose are molecules that can perform particular functions. For example, a hydrogen donation tool could deposit hydrogen atoms where necessary.

Combined with these tools the researchers suggested a selection of reactions to attach and detach atoms where required. Repeating these steps many, many times, you can create new copies of the same tools, as well as hydrocarbon structures.

Beyond these simulations, Merkle recommends more specific proposals to actually begin building these tools and nanostructures by exploring each of the useful reactions proposed in more detail using more detailed simulations, and by conducting experiments based on the simulations.

Eventually, molecular manufacturing is expected to lead to robotic arms, 8-bit computers, and other parts for devices smaller than, say, the mitochondrion. Merkle estimates that a sugar cube-sized volume computer created by molecular manufacturing advances would have more computer power than all the computer power that exists in the world today: “almost a billion Pentiums in parallel.”

This radical reduction in size and increase in ability would lead to nanomedicine and the ability to revive cryopreserved patients, by repairing and rebuilding at the subcellular scale. However, one issue is appropriate funding levels to conduct the necessary experiments and development. If molecular manufacturing is a capability that will take several decades to develop, long-term thinking investors are necessary.


Fantastic speaker. It is helpful to create a blueprint by which others can design their own experiments.

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