Diamond dust

I’ve been trying to get a post together on required reading before voting in November. That post will start by mentioning the books I’ve read in the last month or so. Maybe I can get it together by the weekend. The book I’ll mention next would be extra-credit, so I’m taking a bit more space here to discuss it.

I’m about 2/3 of the way through Ray Kurzweil’s The Singularity is Near. I highly recommend it. In sum: Linear expectations of scientific progress are about to smash into the “knee” of an exponential technological progress curve. The linear expectations will not survive. A combination of nano-technology and neuro-biological progress are going to explode. There’s an exponent on the exponent.

If you can live until the late 2020s you have a good chance at living as long as you want to. Kurzweil assumes that machines smaller than 100 nanometers will enable an electronic-biological fusion that will fundamentally transform humanity. He makes a good case, and argues that nano-bots built from diamond are very likely to be the delivery mechanism of the singularity.

This reminded me of list I was challenged to make a few years ago of books “every college undergraduate should have read.” I think there were 6 or 8 of us who prepared lists. I was the only person to recommend Neal Stepenson’s Diamond Age:

Eric Drexler and Ralph Merkle, both of whom receive an honorary mention in The Diamond Age, have argued that if nanotechnology develops the ability to manipulate individual atoms at will, it will become possible to simply assemble diamond structures from carbon atoms.[5] Merkle argues enthusiastically: “In diamond, then, a dense network of strong bonds creates a strong, light, and stiff material. Indeed, just as we named the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, and the Steel Age after the materials that humans could make, we might call the new technological epoch we are entering the Diamond Age”.[6] In the novel, a near future vision of our world, nanotechnology has developed precisely to this point, which enables the cheap production of diamond structures.

Stephenson, who is an excellent writer, examines what that means for society. I think Diamond Age even more relevant now than when I made my list. It is much, much closer than you think. Your children will certainly be living in some world like it in their middle age. So might you boomers be in your dotage.

Finally, I noticed a Slashdot thread on Sunday referencing manipulation of DNA using nano-bots:

Japanese researchers have found a way to build long threads of DNA using miniaturized hooks and bobbins. In fact, they’ve demonstrated how to manipulate delicate DNA chains without breaking them. They’ve designed these laser-directed microdevices to pick up and manipulate individual molecules of DNA. The scientists have used optical tweezers to catch and move these microdevices, which could be used in the future to detect genetic disorders such as Down’s syndrome.

Full Journal article here.

…and don’t miss the movies of the experiments. A strand of DNA is manipulated before your very eyes.

Make of this confluence what you will. I’m inclined to give Kurzweil a lot of credit.