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Molecular machine systems are a strategic objective in developing advanced molecular nanosystems

Molecular machine systems are uniquely important to the future of nanotechnology. Other products of nanotechnology — electronics, sensors, displays, materials — have great value, but none of these products is itself useful in doing the work of production. Molecular machine systems, in contrast, can be used to build things — not only electronics, sensors, displays, materials, but more and better molecular machine systems. Machines can be more than mere products, they can be productive products, useful in producing more and better productive tools.

From the industrial revolution forward, machines have been used to make a wide range of products, including more and better machines. Twentieth century discoveries in molecular biology revealed that life itself is based on productive molecular machines. It should came as no surprise that these molecular machines can been used to make a wide range of molecular products, including more and better molecular machines.

Why are machines important to production? Making complex products typically requires putting parts together into complex, three-dimensional patterns — to achieve the goals of advanced nanotechnology, this means putting molecular parts together with atomic precision. To put molecules together to form complex structures, one must either design the molecules to stick together in precise ways spontaneously (via brownian assembly), or put them together using machines. In the macroscopic world, we use machines to put parts together, and studies indicate that the advantages of doing so carry over to the molecular world. Electronics, sensors, displays, and materials, in contrast, can’t directly make anything at all.

Programmable molecular machines exist today, in biology. Learning to use and imitate these machines is a key strategic goal on the path to developing new forms of productive molecular machinery.