A tour of a nanofactory

Here’s another first at VCTB – the first time I’ve bothered reposting something I saw on YouTube.

Being an incorrigible science fiction reader, and leaning toward the harder end of the spectrum, I’ve heard plenty about nanofactories (or ‘replicators’, or ‘fabbers’ as they are sometimes called). But to actually see a visualisation of how one would work was pretty inspirational. OK, so it’s all theoretical so far – but those theories are pretty sound and well thought out. It’s the technology that limits us at the moment, not the science.

Speaking of fabricators and the limits of technology, Gregory Cochran used his slot in The Edge’s 2007 big question round-up to talk up the potential of self-replicating technologies:

“Right now the human race uses about 13 trillion watts: the solar cells required to produce that much power would take up less than a fifth of one percent of the Earth’s land surface—remember that the Earth intercepts more solar energy in an hour than the human race uses in a year. That’s a lot of solar cell acreage, but it’s affordable as long as they make themselves. We could put them in deserts—in fact, they’d all fit inside the Rub’ al Khali, the Empty Quarter of Saudi Arabia. As I understand it, we like depending on the Saudis for energy.”

Randall Parker at FuturePundit makes a good point in response, that ties neatly into current incidents in the Middle East as well:

“Regarding getting technological advances sooner: The lack of a more vigorous pursuit of the big pay-off breakthroughts has got to be the absolutely hugest opportunity cost we inflict on ourselves. We’ve somehow managed to allow the United States to get in a position where it is going to waste about $150 billion in Iraq this fiscal year. Yet the total budget for the US National Science Foundation for a wide range of research efforts in many areas of science is about $6 billion dollars. Granted, other research agencies get much larger chunks of money compared to the NSF. But ridiculous fiascos get far more.”

So, I guess I should amend my earlier point. It’s not just the technology that holds us back from achieving a secure and incredible future for our species, both on the planet and beyond – it’s the serious ethical and philosophical blindspots of our leaders and captains of industry.

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