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Brief History of the Progression of Computer Technology

The Coming Revolution in Manufacturing

Ralph C. Merkle, Ph.D., Research Scientist, Xerox PARC: Testimony to the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Science, Subcommittee on Basic Research, June 22, 1999.


For centuries manufacturing methods have gotten more precise, less expensive, and more flexible. In the next few decades, we will approach the limits of these trends. The limit of precision is the ability to get every atom where we want it. The limit of low cost is set by the cost of the raw materials and the energy involved in manufacture. The limit of flexibility is the ability to arrange atoms in all the patterns permitted by physical law.

Most scientists agree we will approach these limits but differ about how best to proceed, on what nanotechnology will look like, and on how long it will take to develop. Much of this disagreement is caused by the simple fact that, collectively, we have only recently agreed that the goal is feasible and we have not yet sorted out the issues that this creates. This process of creating a greater shared understanding both of the goals of nanotechnology and the routes for achieving those goals is the most important result of today's research.

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