The Universal Assembler

About 40 years ago, Eric Drexler conceived of universal assemblers - machines that would be able to construct any desired material, simply by attaching the relevant atoms to each other to create the final structure. Machines like that could conceivably produce meat, hammers, glass, diamond, and even sophisticated electronics.

What if we had a competition to do just that? Not an actual universal assembler, but maybe a 3D printer that can create three different types of matter: metal tools, meat, and glass, for example.

What do you think?

@crointel, @NickOttens, @JessicaYoon @SevagKechichian

It’s a bold idea. I think we may start from printing a single molecule from atoms directly without going through regular chemical reactions, for example, using H and O to print water, using C, H, O to print benzyl alcohol, etc. Therefore, we need to consider:

  1. How to create atom-type H, O and other atoms we need, and store them?
  2. How to put them together to create the desired molecule(s)?

If we can get a few very first successful cases, I think the technologies will get more and more mature in their own way, and eventually leads to the success of printing a whole thing.

What problem(s) would we solve with this?

I was to say that, for example, used to print a real organ, but soon I remembered that organ printing can start at the cell level, which make more sense. For example, in 2019, Israeli scientists had made a major breakthrough to successfully print a rabbit-sized heart with correct anatomical structure and function compared to real hearts.

However, in some cases, we may not have cells that we need but only their digital blueprints. Then these methods can be used to print cells, stem or specialized, depending on the needs.

On the other hand, they could be used to print complicated molecular machines or nano-scaled robots which may not be achieved upon current chemical knowledge.

I didn’t actually mean that we would ask the participants to develop a nano-assembler, working at the atomic level or even at the molecular one.

I was thinking more along the lines of having a single 3D printer that could print plastic and metal and clothes. Possibly also combining all three (or other materials we could think of) to create sophisticated items. So maybe a printer that could print a functioning computer, or even better - a model of itself (a little smaller, obviously) that could work just as well as the original printer with minimal post-processing.

I see, what you meant is a single 3D printer capable of using multiple types of materials.
Not that one I thought about.

Well, it can be any kind of machine you want, as long as it does as I specified :slight_smile:

@crointel we already have assemblers for many, many chemicals. They are refineries and chemical engineering plants generally.

We lack the ability to generate at scale, macro structures like meat, but that is already close.

Why would you limit an assembler to making smaller copies of itself? It can make components inside itself for a larger copy, and it could assemble a larger copy outside itself.