This has to be one of my favourite books ever. I’m so embarrassed that I hadn’t read it before now.
The book concentrated on how nanosystems will be used to transform our lives, our bodies, and the environment. There was also a discussion on how we will control nanosystems such that they do not replicate uncontrollably. The book was a nice introduction to the topic, not too heavy, and written with a powerfully optimistic style. I felt that the chapters on government policy were the weakest point, although to be honest that’s probably just my personal taste. They were well written, just not quite as gripping as the discussion of the actual technology itself.
The entire book was great reading, although I felt Chapter 14 in particular had something important to say; a lesson to be learnt. The focus of this section “A network of knowledge” was on the then future technology of hypertext, linked media and general freedom of information/knowledge aggregation techniques. It really stood out for me, because it’s the only chapter in the book where that technology today has not only been realised, but has exceeded Drexler’s foresight tenfold. Reading this chapter was so beautifully quaint, until a thought struck me…
…It could have been any of the chapters that had been fully realised.
Presumably all the chapters were written with a similar level of foresight, it just happened that the correct set of factors converged to cause 14 to be the first. I’m sure in due course more will follow, but this chapter sat somewhat uncomfortably and laughably in stark contrast to the rest of the (seemingly visionary) book. It humbly served to highlight our different behaviour towards incredible concepts that have already been realised, and those that still harbour engineering problems to be solved. Some would refer to the latter as (rather derogatorily) pure science fiction.
I also really enjoyed the last chapter too. Drexler’s writing style seriously moved me. I hope that people find this book a call to arms, and that those who read it when it was first published (1986) will take the time to re-read, and realise that we are closer to these dreams, enough so to really do something about it. In 10 years time I want to feel that quaint warmth when I read ALL the chapters, not just the one about hypertext.
I have the nanosystems textbook waiting on my bookshelf for some more in-depth learning.