Transforming the Material Basis of Civilization
(TEDx talk, take #2)

by Eric Drexler on 2013/08/30

Here’s take #2 of my recent Lisbon TEDx talk. The earlier post linked a version of the talk (take #1, morning) in which the slides often wouldn’t advance and got skipped; I now have the video of the noon redo with debugged visuals:

If you’ve linked to the earlier version, please update. If not, then you might want to bring this talk to wider attention. I think that it’s a good introduction to a topic that needs more attention, and soon.

The talk is also newly posted at the Oxford Martin School’s Programme on the Impacts of Future Technology, where I spend my time these days.

Talk abstract (revised):

A Future of Radical Abundance:
Transforming the Material Basis of Civilization

What if an advanced production technology could enable us to transition to a global economy with zero carbon emissions, and then enable us to undertake the vast task of removing excess carbon from Earth’s atmosphere? What if we could learn to make a broad spectrum of products cleanly, at low cost, and on a global scale? If so, then prospects for the 21st century would be different from today’s expectations.

My recent TEDx talk in Lisbon describes the physical basis and historical context of a prospective revolution in the material basis of our civilization: high-throughput atomically precise manufacturing. The level of technology required is visible in the distance today—not close, yet accessible through a series of advances in nanotechnology and the molecular sciences. As global problems intensify, understanding this technological potential has become increasingly urgent. The TEDx talk surveys this topic and provides a framework for further discussion.

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

Justin Gohn September 1, 2013 at 2:58 pm UTC

Hi Eric: is there any way to get your full talk that you did for the New York Writers Institute? In YouTube there is only a 3-4 minute excerpt from the talk; I called and asked them at the Institute but have not got a return call. Thanks, Justin.

Eric Drexler September 2, 2013 at 1:36 pm UTC

I don’t have a full talk version either, but would like one.
Could you make another inquiry, maybe by email, and ask whether one exists?

Justin Gohn September 2, 2013 at 3:10 pm UTC

I will Eric. Just sent them an email as well. Keep u posted.

Justin Gohn September 7, 2013 at 3:43 am UTC

Hi Eric…no luck, they won’t get back to me.

Ray Hawk September 9, 2013 at 10:43 pm UTC

Mr. Drexler:

I just finished reading “Radical Abundance”… Back in the 80s I read Engines of Creation when it came out and as a science and science fiction fan found the grand vision of molecular manufacturing in the book very inspiring. I went through a two year applied science “nanoscience” program through my local university in 2004-2006 which used your Nanosystems book as a text (very good also), and I have a computer science degree…

I was always a proponent of the molecular manufacturing or “APM” as you now call it, view over what nanotechnology has become, glorified chemistry, ie. materials science… (along with some bioengineering etc. thrown in, mostly targeting advances in microprocessors, medicine and weapons systems…and materials).

So I’m sorry to say I found your latest book a bit dry. I was eager to read it, but it seems to me you’ve abandoned your grand vision for this emerging science. In the book you appear to try to straddle a line between popular science and academia in the writing approach, and for me it came off as boring. I’m surprised at that myself.

I know that your vision for the future of this science and engineering has been ridiculed and sidestepped in the scientific community, and by the NNI…and that a more moderate approach to promoting nanotech seems the prudent way to go…

But I caution you that you are losing the next generation of students who dream of being true molecular manufacturers.

When the Apollo program was under way, I very much doubt that the astronauts came home and told their wives, “We are pioneering a new level of engineering management at NASA!” More likely they said, “We are going to the Moon!”

Don’t throw out the moon just because APM must be achieved incrementally. The flash of science is what draws the young to it.

It drew me to the field, and when I found out was not going to be anything more than a glorified chemistry lab technician afterwards, I wrote it off as a loss.


Ray Hawk

DiamondoidForever September 23, 2013 at 8:23 pm UTC

Radical Abundance is a great book and one of my favorite sections is where Drexler mentions the use of oxide and nitride materials for structural purposes.

Jonathan October 7, 2013 at 10:01 am UTC

Hi Eric

I was very excited to see you had a new book and so recently published. I eagerly read it over two weekends. It has certainly rekindled my excitement and concern about APM and its capacity for fundamental disruptive change. People need to understand and realise this so you have a big job ahead of you. I for one will continue pushing the idea of neurofeedback as a technology to heal brains and raise reasonably functioning brains to levels of peak performance. People need to be lifted into these states as they will be more open and more able to face and to deal with the issues coming up. But getting people to look at this seriously is as difficult as it is with APM even though the field and the technology it is based on is rapidly advancing.

I have to agree with Ray that your new book is very dry in parts and its painfully obvious that you are trying to avoid having your ideas trivialised or sensationalised, which I understand completely. There must be a way to create a vision of the end result to inspire people. Ray’s Apollo analogy is a good example. Perhaps you can help other serious thinkers to create a vision that puts you at arms length so you can get on with the very important business of helping to create an engineering project approach for the realisation of APM.

I wish you all the best your doing an excellent job.


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