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Inching Toward a "Utility Fog"

There's are some "ultimate" technologies that would, if perfected, change the world in ways that we can't imagine. One of these technologies is greater-than-human intelligence. If we, by any means, are able to engineer a greater-than-human level of intelligence, then that intelligence could go on to engineer still greater intelligence and on and on. Kurzweil, sounding much more ominous than usual, said that it would be the last invention unenhanced humans ever need to make.

{Actually, that quote originated with I.J. Good in 1965 - ed.}

Another ultimate tech is the utility fog. This fog would be a nanobot swarm that could serve as any physical object desired. Paint the wall and the wall could be any color you like, or be a television. Make the interior walls out of the stuff and you could change your floor plan every day. A utility fog floor could grow any furniture you need. No need for clothes - the fog could be any kind of clothes you want. And it could keep the body clean and otherwise maintained - except for food or water. No need for any other external or internal technology. It could be an all-purpose communication, computation, work, security, and entertainment device.

And I'm looking for a "My Other Car is a Utility Fog" bumper sticker.

pigpen.gifNo, you wouldn't have to look like Pig Pen - unless you wanted to. This stuff would be invisible until needed. Anyway, that's the dream - the flip-side of the gray goo nightmare.

Last May I commented that:

Unfortunately, this [utility fog] is not the "next big thing." It's more like the big thing that comes after four or five other big things.

We may have just gotten news of the first preliminary "big thing."

Now Salvatore Torquato, a Princeton University scientist, is proposing turning a central concept of nanotechnology on its head...

Torquato and colleagues have published a paper in the Nov. 25 issue of Physical Review Letters, the leading physics journal, outlining a mathematical approach that would enable them to produce desired configurations of nanoparticles by manipulating the manner in which the particles interact with one another...

"In a sense this would allow you to play God, because the method creates, on the computer, new types of particles whose interactions are tuned precisely so as to yield a desired structure," said Pablo Debenedetti, a professor of chemical engineering at Princeton.

The standard approach in nanotechnology is to come up with new chemical structures through trial and error, by letting constituent parts react with one other as they do in nature and then seeing whether the result is useful...

But Torquato and his colleagues, visiting research collaborator Frank Stillinger and physics graduate student Mikael Rechtsman, have taken an inverse approach to self-assembly...

Instead of employing the traditional trial-and-error method of self-assembly that is used by nanotechnologists and which is found in nature, Torquato and his colleagues start with an exact blueprint of the nanostructure they want to build.

Torquato has demonstrated his theory only with computer models, but the computer-models are very impressive:

triangle lattice.jpgIf one thinks of the particles as pennies scattered upon a table, the pennies, when laterally compressed, would normally self-assemble into a pattern called a triangular lattice.

But by optimizing the interactions of the "pennies," or particles, Torquato made them self-assemble into an entirely different pattern known as a honeycomb lattice (called that because it very much resembles a honeycomb).

Why is this important? The honeycomb lattice is the two-dimensional analog to the three-dimensional diamond lattice - the creation of which is somewhat of a holy grail in nanotechnology.

honeycomb lattice.jpg

New York University physics professor Paul Chaikin is planning to test this theory in the lab.

UPDATE: Ivan Kirigan was inspired to design the bumper sticker:

my other car.jpg

Get yours at CafePress.

Thanks Ivan.

UPDATE 2: It occurs to me that if you could essentially put carbon on a conveyer belt and move it through a system that would dictate how the carbon interacts with other carbon atoms, then why wouldn't you be able to produce carbon nanotubes in the strengths and lengths necessary to do all sorts of interesting things?

You know, things like space elevators?


Ask and ye shall receive.

I present: Utility Fog stickers!

I've said it before and I'll say it again.

Utility Fog...I have GOT to get me some of that stuff.

Utility fog makes me wonder if hardware reaches some limit, where it stops expanding exponentially in speed, will expanding in space makes the most sense?

Then a brain could be a dense nebula utility fog version of something like this guy


And I thought I was being original. :-)

Thanks, though!


Make no mistake: I made the stickers in 3 minutes after reading the post. Ahh, the beauty of cafePress :-D

Good post


Very cool.

Wasn't he Phileas's younger brother?


Yes, Mr. Utility Fogg had this dream to go around the world in the blink of an eye.

Phileas thought he was nuts.

An update on FilthyRobot. It sorta violates some trust with a fine amateur brewing company (by some friends of mine), Dirty Robot Brew Works.

You can now find whatever I plan on making on ZombieRobot.

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