Moscow Report (II):
Russians embrace a radical vision
of nanotechnology

by Eric Drexler on 2011/12/21

(This is followup to my brief post from Moscow.)

Because I’m primarily known for the concept of an advanced, atomically precise nanotechnology, the enthusiastic welcome I received in Moscow at Rusnanotech 2011 indicates how the idea is received in Russia. With that in mind, here are some markers of Russian interest in the concept:

Medvedev at Rusnanotech 2011
Dmitry Medvedev
speaking at Rusnanotech 2011

Remarks on nanotechnology
by the President of Russia

Rusnanotech is billed as Europe’s largest nanotechnology conference. As I mentioned in my post from Moscow, I’d been invited to give the closing speech at the opening plenary, outlining prospects for the future of nanotechnology. My remarks were followed by an unannounced speech by Dmitry Medvedev, the President of the Russian Federation. The pleasantly surprising opening of his talk suggests the impact of the concept of atomically precise manufacturing in Russia:

Good afternoon, colleagues,

It is hard to speak after Mr Drexler, who is such a legend, and I will probably have to make a few adjustments to my speech now, given what has already been said…. [Full transcript in translation here]

President Medvedev is widely known as technophile, and I’m told that he has read my first book, Engines of Creation. He paused to shake my hand on the way out.

A roadmap project led by
the Russian Academy of Sciences

As many of you know, I was the leader of the technical side of the 2007 Battelle / National Labs roadmap for productive nanosystems, which explores paths toward the development of high-throughput atomically precise manufacturing. This effort involved some 200 researchers and engineers from academia, industry, and the hosting National Labs. There’s now a Russian translation from the Russian Academy of Sciences.

At Rusnanotech, I learned more about a current international roadmap project, led by the Russian Academy of Sciences and centered on technological directions and market opportunities. During a followup meeting with a Rusnano representative visiting Oxford, I had an opportunity to review a draft overview of this remarkably systematic and detailed study.

A technical talk for a university audience

In the afternoon of the first day, I spoke to a predominantly young audience drawn from Moscow technical universities. In this talk (held at the venerable Polytechnical Museum) I discussed the physical and engineering principles of atomically precise fabrication. The audience response after the talk was warm (even uncomfortably warm), but I eventually escaped from a crush of questions and requests for name-cards, autographs, and photo ops. Russian culture evidently holds science and technology in high regard.

Again, please read this as an indication of Russian attitudes toward the technological vision, though I suppose that the talk itself must have been OK.

[Update: See video here.]

Eric Drexler at Rusnanotech press conference, 2011
Answering questions
at the Rusnanotech
press conference

Pressed to exhaustion

The Rusnanotech media staff set up a press conference for the first day, and on the second day organized my schedule to include six, then seven, then eight requests for interviews, after which I balked. Six of these were for television, including the main Moscow station.

Remarkably, to the best of my recollection only one interviewer asked the question, “What is nanotechnology?” The exception was an (apparently) American interviewer calling from Washington for the Voice of Russia — the Russian interviewers apparently expected their audiences to have some general knowledge of the subject. (For comparison, imagine an interviewer asking a planetary scientist, “What is spaceflight?”)

Part of the trade-show floor (science & business tracks elsewhere)

The annual Rusnanotech meetings are organized by Rusnano, a state-sponsored corporation established with a mandate to accelerate Russian progress in nanotechnology. Although this was my first trip to Moscow, discussions at Rusnanotech and afterward suggest that I may find reasons to return in the near future.

Zustellr December 21, 2011 at 2:11 pm UTC


the link to the “Full transcript” leads me to a page where I was unable to find such transcript. Even searching for “nano” gave me no result.

Any idea?


Thanks for the broken-link alert. I found an alternative page at — Eric

Vladimir Nesov December 21, 2011 at 2:40 pm UTC

I found the transcript on Kremlin’s official site:

I just duplicated your work. Thanks for getting there first. — Eric

Matvey Ezhov December 21, 2011 at 4:57 pm UTC

Your view is significantly better than many hold here in Russia. Thank you, it is reassuring.

Zustellr December 22, 2011 at 6:13 pm UTC

Thanks for the correction.

flashgordon December 24, 2011 at 9:51 am UTC

You shook hands with a Hitler Drex. That president has been caught on video camera saying his technical staff should be punished severelly due to their failures. Perhaps you missed that. Looks like you’re getting desperate Drex!

Hi, flashgordon — Setting aside the Godwin’s Law violation, name-calling, dubious claim, and mind reading, I’ll just note that when a head of state steps away from his security detail to shake your hand, it would be impolite to remain seated.

— Eric

[An update:]
Hi again — I follow Russian politics with some attention, and you piqued my curiosity.

I see that Medevedev has called for prosecution and punishment “either financially or, if the fault is obvious, it could be a disciplinary or even criminal punishment”, for suspected negligence or corruption in the space program, which has had a string of failures, and “has recently made similar calls for strict punishment after disasters blamed on carelessness, corruption and problems with Russia’s rusty infrastructure, such as a riverboat sinking in July that killed 122”.

I’m not quite sure how 20th century monsters got into the story you heard, but I suspect that one can find bad translations of Russian remarks somewhere in these spacious internets. It’s often the most exciting version of a story that gets traction, and the most exciting version is usually wrong.

— Eric

flashgordon December 24, 2011 at 11:25 pm UTC

Yes Mr Drexler, I think I see what your trying to do – inspire or put pressure on the world to work on nanotech.

flashgordon December 24, 2011 at 11:31 pm UTC

Godwin’s law – a tendency to compare others to Hitler or nazism.

Perhaps there’s more nazi behavior out there than most would admit to.

DiamondoidForever December 25, 2011 at 2:14 am UTC

Eric Drexler: You know this, but, your concepts and work are 100 percent correct. The scientific/chemical/physical evidence backs you up. Infact, the diamondoid machine systems, as well as other molecular systems you propose, should have been thought of, and, seriously developed, long ago. Thank you for your efforts.

flashgordon December 25, 2011 at 10:03 am UTC

This russian president seemed worried that he might be compared to everyone from Stalin to Hitler to say ” of course, I don’t mean to say take em out and shoot them.”

Maybe it’s people’s prior experiences, or analogy as a central aspect of human thinking, or both.

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