A Little Fun Future Scenario...
So what does life in the nano age look like?
Let's examine a very simple social play, dated a few years after the arrival of full blown MNT. This is a slightly decadent little scenario designed to present a future with self replicating machinery and examine mega-engineering projects possible with today's technology (yet wildly too expensive to be practical) and projects that are ONLY possible by building things from the bottom up, atom by atom. The novel economics of nanotechnology should dramatically change what is presently considered possible and practical. After this post-nanotechnology scenario, we will examine the "Can build now but can't afford" engineering and the "Only with Nanotechnology" elements of the story.
A couple of short decades from this moment, two friends, Debra Martin (affectionately code named "Martini") of Boston, Mass. and Peggy Queenfisher of Granada, West Indies, decide to spend the day together, on a Sunrise Rum-Run.
A Sunrise Rum-Run is watching 4 or 5 sunrises on the same morning across 6 or 7 time zones, from the best vantage points a "sunrise weather prediction program" suggests, dowsed liberally with some of West Indies finest.
At 4:30 AM, groggy but looking forward to the day, Martini steps into something like a closet in her house that transports her to an underground transport tube where she enters a smart personal transport pod. The pod accelerates away to the highway net, an underground atmospherically evacuated magnetic levitation system going any where you want at thousands of kilometers per hour. She showers, has Blue Mountain coffee and Scottish Bangers to brace herself against the coming "rum" part and watches her personalized news broadcast.
Three quarters of an hour later, she arrives in something like a closet in the home of Peggy Queenfisher atop a dormant volcanic in Grenada and opens the door. Cool humid tropical air and Peggy greet her in the first warm glow of an island morning. They have fresh squeezed juice and a chat on the veranda as the jungle wakes up and the clouds color the ocean of the Caribbean. Shortly, the sun revels itself as a full ball above the horizon and the adventurers head to the "closet" and the second leg of the Sunrise Rum Run. Hubby Alex staying behind to fish with buddies.
It's generally agreed that Snapper caught with your own hands on your own boat tastes better than an identical fish from a food synthesizing compiler.
Colorado has better conditions this morning than New Mexico according to the weather program, so off to Colorado and a chilly snowy sunrise. It's dark and cold on this mountain pass, but the "smart material" Peg and Deb wear, warm to the occasion. These "garments" are actually microscopic machines with parts so small, they appear bumpy in an atomic resolution microscope (theses bumps are individual atoms) and nanocomputers that sense their surroundings, morph their color and overall shape on command and adjust insulation value and heating elements, to the users predetermined setting.
Batteries and capacitors built on a molecular scale are wildly more efficient and hold much more energy than "bulk technology" devices of today. Peg and Deb's suits are partially solar powered and could stay warm for days, and anonymously recharge themselves to full capacity, the first time they come in contact with another "smart material" hooked to a power grid.
After the glory that is the Rocky Mountains on a morning in May, it's off to the desert of Baja Mexico.
The travelers appear 15 minutes before sunrise this time and lingering a bit after rise to contemplate the beauty of the desert and because the next leg will take them to Hawaii where they plan to surprise a sleeping friend before dawn. But just now It's only 3:30 AM in Honolulu. Switch to Tequila, enjoy another hour or so.
3,000 miles later, one surprised blurry eyed friend later exclaims, "What the Palolo Valley you doing here in the dark?" "We're going to sunrise on Kauai!" "Where's your work ethic?" "You mean the Gobi dessert hunt for food or starve ethic?", said Martini. "The war's over, Hoser! This is the age of Nanotechnology" Off to the little grand canyon on the island of Kauai. This unexpected marvel of nature in the Hawaiian Islands is rivaled only by the likes of the Copper and Grand Canyons. Truly breathtaking at sunrise, then off to the north shore.
As a wise author of science future (Douglas Adams) once wrote (something like) "Emerging civilizations across the universe evolve through three distinct phases of development. First, the question, 'What can we eat?', then, 'Why do we eat?', and finely, 'Where shall we have Lunch?'" Now Deb and Peggy, belonging to a society in one of these distinct phases and having "chased" the sunrise 6,000 miles, decide to lunch at the "Restaurant of Ultimate View" aerostat 90 thousand feet over the stunning Australian barrier reef (hence the name Ultimate and all).
The "UV" aerostat is a huge, inverted tear drop, solar powered hot air balloon kept on station with ducted fans and made of diamond-Buckytube composite and leaded glass to shield the radiation from space one encounters this high up in the atmosphere.
The Restaurant of Ultimate View (not quite the restaurant at the end of the Universe) is owned by a Ms. Lam-Pendle King Chee, 66. She looks not a minute over 21 (some would say this is wicked). Ms. Lam programmed the architecture and performed the molecular modeling for the restaurant, then grew it out of the sea. Why, not for money this popular establishment could generate, that concept has changed a bit. No, she is quite the social butterfly, and what better platform for social notoriety than a floating crystal gourmet hospice with a 1,200 mile turquoise and jade view.
Our travelers are shown to their table, which, like the others, is a carped circle encompassed with brass railing. the circle resting on the clear diamond floor showing clean to the ocean below. The rails are there only to keep one from feeling too much danger of falling.
The light washing up from the waters below illuminates Peggy's face and reveals the effect of the age reversal preparation she took three days ago. The years are running softly backwards now. Her clear skin and feminine features of youth past, now glow in the cool light.
Out below the floor can be seen an unusual sight. Not the normal nano aircraft that frequently dock to the restaurant, but some old jet buff arriving in a twice life size copy of an SR-71. How ostentatious.
The food at the "U.V." is synthesized. There is almost never a delivery here as air is siphoned for additional atoms when needed, and nano "compilers" synthesizes raw ingredients, fresh as picked from a garden or reeled from the sea, cleaned and in some cases, julienne or otherwise prepared. Although a meal fit for a king and queen could just as easily be produced from the compilers, the actual dishes are prepared in the open kitchen of the floating restaurant of Ultimate View, by talented chefs who cook for the same reason an artist paints.
The chefs are, or become quite literally world famous among the globe trotters. Patrons pay only with champagne toasts, complements, an occasional favor, perhaps a certificate of one-one millionth ownership of a valuable Italian painting or a real Cuban cigar (of course, a painting or a cigar could be duplicated with atomic resolution). The "original" Italian painting has a secret molecular code now embedded in the pigment that the Italian Art Society has under lock and key.
One chef at the "U.V." adds to the collection of cigars in her private office by handing the stogie to the wall. The smart material bulges, gently grasps the cigar and adds the stogie to the preexisting pattern of "mounted" cigars on the wall, along with the patrons name and date of presentation with a holo, or 3D video of the occasion. Ah, fond memories.
After a royal lunch and Martini's obligatory condemnational about some man and the particular virtues of another, the ladies decide to take the elevator up to the star lounge on top of the aerostat for an afternoon bracer. This clear observational deck is so named, because at this altitude (90 thousand feet), even during the day the sky is very dark and one is able to see thousands of the brighter stars and planets. The ladies park themselves in two stuffed reclining chairs, designed to afford the best view of the heavens, then order a splash. Since neither had previously experienced evening and seen the full blaze of the night sky they both heard so much about and since their favorite quarry kept appearing from behind the elevator door, the decision is made to stay.
As evening became night and the sky glowed with jewelry, the conversation led to the wonder of it all and how lucky one was to live through the cusps of two worlds, to know the old, pre-nano and thus, really appreciate the new... how we must be slowly learning what the natural state of a sentient beings should be and how much one could grow in a hundred or a thousand years. Peggy suggests, "If you have enough time and money, you can accomplish anything". Deb says, "We are immortal... and richer than the Queen of Sheba".
This scenario revolved around the utility of an underground atmospherically evacuated magnetic levitation transport net (millions of tunnel miles), crisscrossing the world, running at several thousand kilometers an hour. Tunnels would be built by nanomachines and require no human labor.
We could build such a system now, even including superconducting levitation. However, considering the massive expense of the French-English Chunnel, lining the walls with a vacuum container and outfitting with superconductors and massive air pumps, just this stretch would necessitate astronomical funding. Such a fabulously convenient transport net is not feasible without the ability to build the whole system with pre-designed self-replicating construction machines that require no labor and a relatively small staff of people monitoring construction from computer terminals.
If we can build one atom at a time, we can also disassemble, one atom at a time and record the encountered atomic pattern in large nanocomputer memory storage. The "Food Synthesizing Compiler" is really a "universal assembler"; a box atoms enter through one side and any product one has software for exits out the other. This is defiantly a nanotechnology era device.
We could construct a "Restaurant of Ultimate View" aerostat. Dr. Smalley at Rice University is in hot pursuit of a process that makes Buckytubes of unlimited length, however diamond syntheses of reasonable quantity is impossible and growing the thing (the "UV") from seawater is definitely out. I would not want to pay for what we could construct today... and delivering customers at that altitude would be rather technically challenging.
A less elegant and less finely textured "Chef's Stogie Memorabilia Wall" could be built today, even though such an assemblage would be a bit pricey. However with nanotechnology, such a smart wall would probably cost less to construct than its weight in dirt (note this leaves out any licensing fees to assembler builders like Jim Von Ehr of Zyvex. Drexler, the father of nanotechnology (http://www.foresight.org/) suggests that a ton of THz ram chips may cost about the same as a ton of steel today.
The cost and feasibility, post and pre-nano of the "twice life size SR-71" is obvious, but does serve to suggest the material opulence possible with mature nanotechnology.
Now for the heavy, the greatest prize... "Age Reversal Therapy" nanites. All things biological are molecular machines. Like Drexler points out, if you want to see a molecular machine, look in the mirror! life consists of molecular machinery (proteins, etc.) controlled by a program (DNA). Aging is a (unlabeled by the medical community) disease and the real #1 killer. It's particular how the list of human killers like pulmonary, AIDS, car crashes and ship to air missiles, always omit the biggie!
Since the late seventies and first realizing aging and death is a "genetic clock" programed by our selfish genes for the good of the species, or actually for the good of DNA successfully coping itself, I have heard every knee-jerk reaction to this "technically absurd" and "unnatural" proposal. May I humbly suggest, all these reactions are fortunately, bogus. Don't forget, it's "unnatural" for people to fly and two hundred years ago the average lifespan in the "west" was around 30.
Again, please take this as fair warning of the emanate arrival of genetic therapies (although not yet through the hoops of the drug safety administrations of the world) for life extension in 6-12 years and the eventual reversal of the aging process in 12-20 years. I've run across one genetech company who's goal is this very concept and considering the profit potential, I wager most other companies publicly or privately share the same idea. For more discussion on this admittedly stunning proposition, head for, http://nanozine.com/NANOMED.HTM.
Well, we're in for a heck of a ride. It is interesting to note, this third wave revolution (after industrial, and just when the information revolution is warming up) will fall on us with a speed unparalleled in history. One could make a case we are evolving into a new species, post-biological constraint (the death of death), virtually free of the usual material needs and finally, with enough time to find out what it is to be a sentient being. We are the luckiest people to ever live. The world (Solar System) can be a wonderful place if we wish. Clarke said, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." My partner Michael Forbes says, "Magic happens".