Essays on Infinite Lifespans
Marvin L. Minsky
Fortunately, we would not need to know every minute detail.
If that were so, our brains would not work in the first place.
In biological organisms, generally each system has evolved to be
insensitive to most details of what goes on in the smaller sub-
systems on which it depends. Therefore, to copy a functional
brain, it should suffice to replicate just enough of the function
of each part to produce its important effects on other parts.
Suppose that we wanted to copy a machine, such as a brain,
that contained a trillion components. Today we could not
do such a thing (even were we equipped with the necessary
knowledge) if we had to build each component separately.
However, if we had a million construction machines that
could each build a thousand parts per second, our task would
take only minutes. In the decades to come, new fabrication
machines will make this possible. Most present-day manu-
facturing is based on shaping bulk materials. In contrast,
the field called nanotechnology aims to build materials and
machinery by placing each atom and molecule precisely where
we want it.
By such methods, we could make truly identical parts and
thus escape from the randomness that hinders convention-
ally made machines. Today, for example, when we try to etch
very small circuits, the sizes of the wires vary so much that
we cannot predict their electrical properties. However, if we
can locate each atom exactly, then those wires will be indis-
tinguishable. This would lead to new kinds of materials that
current techniques could never make; we could endow them
with enormous strength, or novel quantum properties. These
products in turn will lead to computers as small as synapses,
having unparalleled speed and efficiency.