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November 30th, 2009
If we could design and fabricate the appropriate nanoscale machines and put them into a system capable of building all its own parts, we'd have something called a nanofactory, or to put it another way, an "everything machine." The earliest nanofactories might only build products out of a couple types of atoms, say carbon and hydrogen, but they would have a tremendous impact because they would be automated by necessity, could self-replicate, and would be capable of building almost any chemically stable structure (as long as it used atoms the machine could handle) with atomic precision. Powered by the Sun and using purified natural gas for feedstock molecules, these nanofactories could quickly and easily build huge numbers of residences, greenhouses, appliances, medical equipment, water purification equipment, and much more, at a cost thousands of times lower than the manufacturing technology of today.
Humans are making progress towards nanofactories today, but I'll bet that smarter-than-human intelligences could make much more rapid progress. In fact, it's possible that the most direct route to nanofactories is through smarter-than-human intelligence.
And if you combine a smarter-than-human intelligence with self-replication and nanoscale production, it's difficult to put a limit on how quickly superintelligence could change the world.
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