News and commentary about the Great Frontiers

ISS007-E-10807 (21 July 2003) --- This view of Earth's horizon as the sunsets over the Pacific Ocean was taken by an Expedition 7 crewmember onboard the International Space Station (ISS). Anvil tops of thunderclouds are also visible. Credit: Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

Image Credit: ISS007-E-10807 (21 July 2003) – Earth Science and Remote Sensing Unit, NASA Johnson Space Center

NanoBio 2007 Day Two Speaker: Dr. J. Storrs Hall


Dr. J. Storrs Hall is an independent scientist, inventor, and author. His most recent books are Nanofutures and Beyond AI: Creating the Conscience of the Machine. Hall talked about what nanofactories could make.

Hall believes that just as computers are getting ever cheaper and smarter, nanotechnology will follow the same timeline and price improvement track. Nanofactories will make stuff out of raw materials such as the elements carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen. These four elements make up approximately 96 percent of the human body along with a few other trace elements. Certainly ordinary objects are made out almost entirely of these four elements. Some of the items that could be build using nanofactories (fabrication machines) include:

  • Consumer electronics like Apple’s iPods and iPhones. It is reasonably likely that we will be able to make electronics out of fabrication machines, though not from completely raw elements. However, there will be enough reconfigurable, low level stuff that could be synthesized as components.
  • Bicycles, presumably using epoxy materials with nanotubes in it
  • Cups of coffee and tea (like Captain Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation ordering “tea, earl grey, hot”) – This should be a very simple thing to do. Coffee, and food in general, would be made from specially prepared concoctions of amino acid, protein, and carbohydrate complexes. Unlinking and linking amino acids is easier than pure “from the ground up” synthesis.
  • Diamonds
  • Eggs – to eat but not to hatch or that are alive because there are a lot of protein tricks that we can get around. Producing livable creatures via synthesis is not foreseeable in the near future, but perhaps much, much later.
  • Folding furniture – easily produced by a fabrication machine, and it will be expected that the thing comes out of the machine in a folded up form to be unfolded after purchase.
  • Gadgets and Gizmos – Remarkably complicated circuitry is easy to manufacture within the gadget.
  • Headphones – They are bulky right now, and could be made smaller
  • Ice cream – Temperature regulation will be possible within the machine. Instead of synthesizing a steak and then cooking it on the stove, you would synthesize a steak that has already been cooked and is hot
  • Jackets – A clothing producing synthesizer will look like a closet, not like a desktop machine. When you step into your closet, you will see a full length mirror, and as you chose the ones you like, an image of what you would look like in the clothing that you choose would show. Then you could choose what you like
  • Knives – Home synthesized knives would be made out of ceramic since the metals that we use today are not going to be the materials of choice to use with synthesizers. It is very possible that we are moving towards a post-metallic world.
  • Lights – Producing power handling material is getting easy to do and we will be able to do it in any shape and color.
  • Money – How do you keep people from going off and just printing their own counterfeit money? It is not as bad a problem as one might think, since everything is going to be connected to a computer so that paper money will just become obsolete. Hall said we do not need to worry; the economy will not collapse.
  • More Nanofactories! – This will be more of a social impact than the money thing. Hall thinks self-replicating technology is amazing!
  • Office Supplies – virtual reality offices
  • Perambulators – Good old fashion stuff will be easy to make. The only problem is that there were a lot of heavy metals in these objects, which the synthesizers will not use.
  • Tennis racquets – We will be able to synthesize very nice looking fake wood.
  • Utility Fog – changing shape mega structures of programmable material that may act like a gas. This a much longer term invention.
  • Watches – contact lenses that are full function displays as well
  • Voluntars – any kind of transportation device can be changed in your garage everyday
  • Yurts – You could construct an abode with all the comforts of home when going camping with a fabricator on your back, with air conditioning and lighting. It would probably use cellulose from trees.
  • No zircons though!
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