Re: The mind-boggling nanotech future...

Ken Clements (
Sat, 28 Aug 1999 22:51:25 -0700

john grigg wrote:

> Hello everyone,
> I was very blown away by Robert Bradbury's reply to my post. I always
> thought of nanotech as being used simply as an extension of our present
> economic system. I still do have some reservations about the future being
> quite as free and materially bountiful as he depicts but time will tell....

As Robert points out, the future will be design limited. If you are interested in using solar energy, there is no need to be limited to what you can build on some piece of land. Your handy nanofabrication box can start turning out small solar collectors the size of insects that fly up into the atmosphere. There they would collect energy and molecules so as to make hydrocarbon fuel and more of themselves. Soon you could have a very large Swarm Agent (SA) returning a constant stream of fuel (and other material) to you without the use of land.

The Swarm Agent is a just a step on the path that leads to Utility Fog, but it is one we should be able to design in the near future. Your SA lets you "farm the sky" and that is quite a source, but you may want to move on to something bigger that does give you some land. When your SA has gathered enough mass and fuel, you can direct it to make your own island. I am sure there will be many ways to do this; here is one concept:

Step 1. Part of your SA coalesces to form a large fabrication engine that lands in the ocean at a point of your choosing. The rest of the SA keeps doing its thing to feed this new engine.

Step 2. On the ocean floor, the fabrication engine sends root like tubules down into the crust of the earth, with which it extracts material.

Step 3. When the descending tubules get deep enough, the temperature gradient will be large enough for the fabrication engine to run by geothermal energy. The system can then switch over from support from your SA, to its own self contained source of energy and material.

Step 4. With its new source of energy, that grows as it does, your large scale fabrication engine starts growing and building up material around it so as to rise up out of the sea and become your own island.

As you can see, the process described above has much in common with the way natural volcanic islands are made (same source of energy and material), however, this would not be so spectacular, as the fabrication engine would not want to dig all the way down to molten rock.

You may also see from this discussion that the process of transforming the surface of a planet like Mars is much the same. You need to get some nanotech seeds sent there. Once there they can grow on solar energy until they get to the point to be able to switch to planetary thermal energy (most scientists think Mars has a hot core, although probably cooler than the earth). Once the energy is available, there is plenty of sand on Mars from which to extract oxygen.

The Swarm Agent concept would work well for building large floating structures in the upper atmosphere of Venus. In this case solar energy is stronger, and planetary thermal energy is available without digging. (You would need to radiate waste heat into space from the high atmosphere so as to be able to run the heat engines.)

All of the above is just to indicate that molecular nanotechnology will make possible anything you can design. Material and energy will not be a problem. Cooperation among people using this will be the limiting problem. As you can guess, an SA also makes a tremendous weapon if you want to use it that way. Also, if everyone starts making his or her own island (each intent to have the biggest) the thermal and displacement impacts on the oceans and global weather could be undesirable.

I do not believe in Santa, but I do believe that we are about to let the molecular nanotechnology jinni out of the bottle. Now that we know we can do so, there is no way to stop it from happening, and, once out, that jinni will never go back into the bottle. We may have to enhance ourselves to do it, but one way or another, humanity will have to come up with the maturity to handle this.