[Historical note: this is a brief extract from an unpublished 1991 rough draft essay of mine on neglected aspects of nanotech history, with some revisions for readability.]
Patrick Gunkel’s 1975 book, “The Future of Space”, was a comprehensive space futurism study produced at the Hudson Institute. It was subsequently circulated among the leading proponents of space development of that era. One person with close ties to that community became an allegedly independent discoverer of nanotech possibilities a few years later, and a self-proclaimed nanotech guru. Many bogus claims were circulated to the effect that the more far-out implications nanotech had never been previously recognized. Having read and returned a copy of this book (from the headquarters of the L-5 Society—which promoted space energy, space industrialization, and space colonization) in the 1970s, (plus having read lots of other technical literature of that era), what nano-cultists regarded as divine revelation I regarded as rather unscrupulous rehashes of a range of prior work. Unfortunately, I couldn’t recall the author and title of this book (Patrick Gunkel’s “The Future of Space”) when I wrote a chapter summarizing the history and prospects of nanotech for the proceedings of the First Artificial Life Conference in the late 1980s. In the early 1990s, through an amazingly fortunate coincidence, I happened to meet Pat, who turned out to be a neighbor of a mutual friend (who was the son and research assistant of another nanotech pioneer I had tracked down some years earlier), then living in Austin. (All of us have long since moved elsewhere.)
So at long last, another crucial piece of the real history of nanotech can now be filled in. The following paragraph is taken from page 196 of Gunkel’s original manuscript. (In the abbreviations he uses below, “&r”, “&c”, and “&rc” stand for “and/or”, “etc.”, and “and/or etc.” respectively.)
“Telemetric Microstations. […] Tremendous, progressive miniaturization of sensors, computers, operators, experiments, vehicles, power sources, engines, memories, laboratories (diverse instruments), &r even certain payloads should be possible and occur over the future, miniaturization so exquisite, and so many orders of magnitude beyond present degrees, and past progress as to seem to us miraculous, and impossible. So much information, and mechanical versatility seems ultimately possible in a 1-centimeter, 1-gram, and 1024-atom cube of matter—whatever its shape, and form—that is hard to think of things not precisely, or equivalently achievable simultaneously in an ultimate cube of such insignificant dimensions as a teleological condensate, or quintessence. This is not only because of the micro-manipulative, microscopical, ultra-sensitive, micro-cosmical (otherworldly), elegant, &c powers possible for such micromachines, nor their computational capabilities (e.g. 1024-bit memory, 10-10-10-18 sec operations, &r arbitrarily great intelligence). Cellular automata, and general ontological micromachines could, and probably will eventually—even before 2050—acquire theurgic infinite, and super-infinite powers to fulfill assignments to an infinite degree, reform the universe, ..., maximize natural evolution, ... (such supreme devices might be called “omnipotent atoms”). That a 1-gram, or 1024-atom virtually omnipotent micromachine, microrobot, microstation, &rc is possible argues that extraordinarily, and perhaps similarly effective miniaturizations might be possible of far greater parvitude, say having 10-1-10-16 gram masses, and competing with bacteria at least for certain environments, or tasks, and per the progress of both science, and technology. ... Single spaceships launched from Earth could piggy-back millions, or septillions of microships, microrobots, micro-minds, micro-beings, micro-observatories, ..., all at a cost hypothetically commensurate with present individual undertakings, or at a fraction thereof. …”
Gunkel also develops the theme of replicators and replicating systems. Gunkel further forecasts a “Technological analogue to teleportation (telefacsimilization of objects reproducing ... even chemistry ....)” as a (very roughly) 2045 possibility. This nano-tech prediction completely surpassed comparable past and subsequent predictions in range and scope. Many other ideas that Gunkel has spun off in the process of developing ideonomy have subsequently been picked up by others, often without acknowledgment. Unlike other publicity hounds that recycle the work of others and present it as their own, Pat really is a real genius.
[Postscript: Patrick Gunkel now has a preliminary ideonomy web site.]