How long to the Star Trek replicator?

The economics of nanomanufacturing are starting to be discussed by the industry. See a fascinating video on a desktop manufacturing system. But will we hear that home systems are impractical or impossible, as we once heard about computing in the mainframe era?

This fascinating video explains how a desktop device using reservoirs of basic materials will be able to assemble almost anything from scratch. While this isn't the way I'd want to cook a meal, like the replicator did for the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the opportunities implicit in nanomanufacturing devices are extraordinary. Imagine being able to design and build anything to an atomic levelWe'll hear we don't need or can't afford home nanomanufacturing, just as we did with computing of precision on your desktop with the waste products consisting of air and water. 

On Star Trek, the advent of the replicator makes money irrelevant, since anyone can have whatever they want. Somehow, that seems a bit Utopian to me, since the financial foundations of nanotechnology rest firmly on the profit-driven investment by venture capitalists. At some point, scarcity will become totally irrelevant, but I imagine that we'll see more than a few people along the way try to declare that there is enough manufacturing capacity in industrially operated nanotech systems, basically that all we need is "mainframe" nanomanufacturing, just as we once heard that no one will need a computer in the home. Of course, the people making those arguments will own the systems they say are sufficient to serve everyone—at a reasonable profit, of course.

When we're talking about unlimited wealth, better to talk about spreading it around rather than concentrating it in the hands of the one percent that control half the world's resources today. How soon can we get to the point where every home or every village around the world might be offered the Apple II of nanomanufacturing? That's a goal to aim for at the beginning of a new year.

If you're working in the field, give me a ring at "godsdog" on Skype and let's talk about the economic models that might support home nanomanufacturing systems.

UPDATE: Listen to a podcast interview with the founders of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology about this posting.

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