Meet K. Eric Drexler, the de facto father of nanotechnology.
Old School Sci Fi read Drexler’s book, Engines of Creation, back in 1986 and was enthralled. Drexler outlined how nanotech would, in the decades to come, make molecular engineering possible, resulting in revolutions in space travel, economics, and everything in between. Remember that the “Retrofuture,” the vision of tomorrow informed by previous decades of science fiction and pop sci futurism, was pretty much discredited by the mid-1980s. As the end of the millennium was on the horizon, there was not one proper domestic housekeeper robot or flying car to be seen. Could nanotechnology finally make good on the promises of yesteryear’s future?
The seemingly moribund Retrofuture’s new lease on life was called into question just after the turn of the millennium when Nobel-laureate Richard Smalley criticized the underlying ideas behind Drexler’s vision of nanotechnology. The adversarial tone of the Drexler-Smalley debate seemed to shed more heat than light on the future of nanotech.
As with most technologies, nanotech will require decades of quiet maturation and development before its full potential – or lack thereof – can be determined. As such, it’s too early to tell if K. Eric Drexler will be a footnote in history or the Nikola Tesla of Nanotechnology. For the present, Drexler has at least earned a foothold in science fiction.