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"[Science fiction is] nightmares and visions, always outlined by the barely possible."
- Gregory Benford

Autofac (Nanorobots)  
  Very small robots working on self-replication  

The automated factories took what they needed:

"Each factory is limited to its own operational area…but the network itself is unbounded. It can go on scooping up our resources forever. The Institute decided it gets top priority; we mere people come second."

The pellet was a smashed container of machinery, tiny metallic elements too minute to be analyzed without a microscope...

The cylinder had split. At first he couldn't tell if it had been the impact or deliberate internal mechanisms at work. From the rent, an ooze of metal bits was sliding. Squatting down, O'Neill examined them.

The bits were in motion. Microscopic machinery, smaller than ants, smaller than pins, working energetically, purposefully - constructing something that looked like a tiny rectangle of steel.

"They're building," O'Neill said, awed. He got up and prowled on. Off to the side, at the far edge of the gully, he came across a downed pellet far advanced on its construction. Apparently it had been released some time ago.

This one had made great enough progress to be identified. Minute as it was, the structure was familiar. The machinery was building a miniature replica of the demolished factory.

From Autofac, by Philip K. Dick.
Published by Galaxy in 1955
Additional resources -

Physicist Richard Feynman is the first scientist to formally talk about nanomachines; see his fascinating talk at Feynman's Nanotechnology Talk on December 29th, 1959.

Here is a brief excerpt:

I imagine experimental physicists must often look with envy at men like Kamerlingh Onnes, who discovered a field like low temperature, which seems to be bottomless and in which one can go down and down. Such a man is then a leader and has some temporary monopoly in a scientific adventure....

I would like to describe a field, in which little has been done, but in which an enormous amount can be done in principle. This field ... is more like solid-state physics in the sense that it might tell us much of great interest about the strange phenomena that occur in complex situations. Furthermore, a point that is most important is that it would have an enormous number of technical applications.

What I want to talk about is the problem of manipulating and controlling things on a small scale...

It is a staggeringly small world that is below. In the year 2000, when they look back at this age, they will wonder why it was not until the year 1960 that anybody began seriously to move in this direction.

However, before you decide that Feynman is the creator of the nanotechnology idea, read about the ultra-micro-robots from Raymond Z. Gallun's works.

See also the living metal cubes from the 1920 story The Metal Monster by Abraham Merritt.

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Additional resources:
  More Ideas and Technology from Autofac
  More Ideas and Technology by Philip K. Dick
  Tech news articles related to Autofac
  Tech news articles related to works by Philip K. Dick

Autofac (Nanorobots)-related news articles:
  - RepRap: Self-Replicating Rapid Prototyping
  - Self-Replicating Modular Robots
  - Lower Limit For Nanobot Size Discovered
  - Desktop Nanofactory Video
  - Claytronics: Robot Swarm-Based 3D Shape-Shifting Objects
  - Autofac - Real-Life Nanoscale Assembly Line
  - Cubelets - Buy A Robot Swarm For $300
  - 3D Nano Molecular Structures Can Be Built On A Surface
  - Micro-Robots Self-Assemble From Tiny Particles
  - Self-Building, Self-Tooling, Autonomous Manufacturing
  - Self-Assembling Nanoparticles Move Like Tiny Gears
  - Small Molecule Walker Takes First Steps

Articles related to Robotics
MIT's C-LEARN Helps Robots Transfer Learning To Other Robots
Bionic Eye-Hand Combo Robot Grasps Objects On Its Own
FarmBot, Your Personal Robotic Farmer
Fukushima Plant Needs Radiation-Proof Scorpion Robots

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