Personal nanofactories promise an end to poverty, war
By Dick Pelletier
Imagine a world with billions of
desktop-size, nonpolluting, cheap machines that can manufacture
almost anything – clothing, furniture, electronics, cars, even
food. Today, such devices do not exist, but in the future, a
small Star Trek-like replicator called a "personal
nanofactory” (PN) will sit on your kitchen counter enabling you
to create nearly anything your heart desires at little or no
These incredible machines receive raw atoms from
supplied chemicals or from something as inexpensive as dirt, air
or seawater. Then, using Internet-delivered software, they
instruct atoms to assemble into the final product; a sweater,
refrigerator, health medicine, tonight’s dinner; even a
In their latest book, Revolutionary Wealth,
Alvin and Heidi Toffler argue convincingly that we are on the
verge of a post-scarcity world that will slash poverty and
"unlock countless opportunities and new life trajectories”.
Futurist consultant Steve Burgess agrees. In his
on-line essay, The (Needed) New Economics of Abundance,
Burgess predicts that nanotechnology, especially PNs, could
launch an unprecedented era of abundance for all people.
The World Bank estimates that some 1.1 billion humans
survive on the equivalent of $1 per day; 11% of the global
population is well off, 11%, middle income, and 78%, poor.
Experts believe advanced nanotech could bring clean water,
reliable energy, and quality housing to every third-world
country, and PNs could provide all the world’s poor with an
affluent healthy lifestyle similar to that enjoyed in developed
In a recent article posted on KurzweilAI.net, UCLA
researcher Robert Freitas Jr. suggests that nanotech will bring
about major disruptions in the economy. Automated systems and
"robotic slaves cheaply manufactured by PNs will allow humans to
become pure consumers with no need to produce products or
provide services”. This could reduce the value of human labor to
However, in this future nano-world, many
forward-thinkers believe there will be little need for money.
Technologies will eventually eliminate all living costs. Public
projects like roads and other government activities could also
slash most expenses with automation.
In addition, rapid, flexible manufacturing will allow
swift development of new inventions, spurring innovation,
creating further benefits. As people begin to "replicate” items,
some will create designs that produce a better product, which
others will copy, making new products available at faster rates
than in today’s commerce-driven market.
Positive futurists believe that nanotech could also
eliminate some of the reasons nations go to war. Many conflicts
arise from a fear of losing access to resources such as oil.
Nano-solar systems will provide low-cost methods of harnessing
solar energy creating a viable alternative to fossil fuels.
Countries enjoying the benefits of advanced nanotech will be
less likely to turn hostile.
General-purpose molecular manufacturing with PNs
appears to be inevitable. It could become reality as early as
2020, and certainly should happen by 2025. When it arrives, it
will come quickly. To prepare for the coming development of
molecular manufacturing technology, futurists say we must start
planning for it today.
Clearly, the road to personal nanofactories winds
around unknown turns. However, strong commerce and government
support will insure its arrival. This "magical future” promises
reduced conflicts between nations, optimum health and undreamed
of personal wealth for everyone on Earth.
This article appeared in various print media and blogs; comments
always welcome. See other published work by Dick at