Book Review: Engines of Creation (1986)

The coming era of nanotechnology
by K. Eric Drexler
1986, Anchor Press/Doubleday , 289 pages
Reviewed by Brian R. Wright

Original review, November 2007.

One of the watershed books of the life extension movement—or any of half a dozen names given to the rising awareness that we humans are destined to transcend our biological limitations—Engines of Creation by Dr. Eric Drexler lays out the vision for molecular-level engineering. (The approximate dimensions of molecules are in the nanometer—1 billionth of a meter—range, hence the words molecular technology and nanotechnology are synonyms.)

These were heady times in the mid to late 1980s for what I’ll refer to here generically as the “transhumanist” movement.  In 1960s and 1970s, Dr. Robert Ettinger had laid out some blueprints for how human beings could reach the next level of evolution: The Prospect of Immortality and Man into Superman.  Other scientists and humanists were also debating the ramifications of cryogenic preservation, gene therapy, cloning, nutritional enhancement, and so on.  In 1982 researchers Durk Pearson and Sandy Shaw came out with a bestselling book Life Extension: A Practical Scientific Approach.

It’s no accident the life extension and transhumanist movement coincided with the heyday of the Libertarian Party’s impingement on American political consciousness—not to mention the thrust of free-market anarchist, individualist, anti-corporatist, Movement of the Libertarian Left, and innumerable variations on the following theme: “We are free agents, beholden to no central political power, and rational self-interest being a good thing, why not stick around as long as we can, vigorously, youthfully?!”

Engines of Creation describes the foundations of and the issues surrounding humankind’s increasing potential for building molecular machines. (Indeed as we stand here on the verge of 2008, notable accomplishments in nanotechnology continue to be made.) Drexler’s “starter kit” comprises what he calls “universal assemblers,” which are nanomachines designed for a simple task, such as replacing defective genetic links with functional ones or bonding one cellular structure to another: Continue reading

Book Review: The Prospect of Immortality (1964)


by Robert C.W. Ettinger
1964, 1966, MacFadden Books, 160 pages,204,203,200_.jpgThe idea for going back into the time machine, purchasing, and rereading this book was precipitated by the need to get my own contract for cryogenic interment up to date.  Shortly after my brother died at the tender age of 56 in May this year, I was contacted by Ben Best of the Cryonics Institute (CI), and encouraged to sit down and draw up the contract, like, now. Continue reading

Brian’s Column: Cryonics Movement

Robert EttingerA New Spirit of Preservation
Cryonics movement, alive and well,
shifts into second gear in Clinton Township, Michigan

This is an encore column of mine from 2007, at the time when I had just renewed my suspension agreement with the Cryonics Institute. Since that time, Mr. Ettinger has deanimated, and his body is now stored in a cocoon of liquid nitrogen—along with upwards of 100 clients—at the facility in Clinton Township. I turned 64 this year, losing my dear mother in February. Twenty or thirty years ago I viewed my agreement with the Cryonics Society as insurance I would never need [because someone would  have cured aging by now]. Today, after my experience with Mom, I tend to look at cryogenic interment as a matter of efficient disposition of my body, requiring the least hassle and even a faint glimmer of hope. Continue reading

Book Review: The Singularity is Near (2005)

When humans transcend biology
by Ray Kurzweil
Reviewed by Brian Wright

The Singularity is NearOriginal posting 11/28/2007

Speaking of watershed books of the life extension movement—that’s the comment I made about Engines of Creation, the previous book I reviewed—Ray Kurzweil’s magnum opus on the imminent promise of human-life enhancement technology has arrived.  Actually it arrived a couple of years ago, but it’s taken me a while to get around to reading it. Continue reading