How long to the Star Trek replicator?

How long to the Star Trek replicator?

Summary: The economics of nanomanufacturing are starting to be discussed by the industry. See a fascinating video on a desktop manufacturing system. But will we hear that home systems are impractical or impossible, as we once heard about computing in the mainframe era?

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TOPICS: Hardware
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This fascinating video explains how a desktop device using reservoirs of basic materials will be able to assemble almost anything from scratch. While this isn't the way I'd want to cook a meal, like the replicator did for the crew of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the opportunities implicit in nanomanufacturing devices are extraordinary. Imagine being able to design and build anything to an atomic levelWe'll hear we don't need or can't afford home nanomanufacturing, just as we did with computing of precision on your desktop with the waste products consisting of air and water. 

On Star Trek, the advent of the replicator makes money irrelevant, since anyone can have whatever they want. Somehow, that seems a bit Utopian to me, since the financial foundations of nanotechnology rest firmly on the profit-driven investment by venture capitalists. At some point, scarcity will become totally irrelevant, but I imagine that we'll see more than a few people along the way try to declare that there is enough manufacturing capacity in industrially operated nanotech systems, basically that all we need is "mainframe" nanomanufacturing, just as we once heard that no one will need a computer in the home. Of course, the people making those arguments will own the systems they say are sufficient to serve everyone—at a reasonable profit, of course.

When we're talking about unlimited wealth, better to talk about spreading it around rather than concentrating it in the hands of the one percent that control half the world's resources today. How soon can we get to the point where every home or every village around the world might be offered the Apple II of nanomanufacturing? That's a goal to aim for at the beginning of a new year.

If you're working in the field, give me a ring at "godsdog" on Skype and let's talk about the economic models that might support home nanomanufacturing systems.

UPDATE: Listen to a podcast interview with the founders of the Center for Responsible Nanotechnology about this posting.

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Topic: Hardware

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  • Glock 18 On The Way!

    Neat video. Too bad the voiceover sounds like something out of a not-totally-serious SciFi movie (think Running Man).

    One thing to think about here is intellectual rights also. I wonder how patent, trademark, and trade dress laws will change if something like this becomes available. I guess there can always be "open source" products if the original designers of popular products can and do restrict the use of their designs in replicators. I also assume that there would be at least some wholesale piracy of those designs also.

    Anyway, the most important question is when will not only the replicator be available, but also a good design pattern for a Glock 18? With the very inconvenient NFA and the McClure Volkmer act, Glock 18s are so very difficult to obtain!! This would solve that problem. It would also solve the most pressing problem of every junkie and crackhead out there.

    Hmm... Actually, I wonder if the government would allow you to have one of these at all.
    goingbust
  • Money could become outmoded.

    Why use general scarcity? Sure there is always scarcity. If we didn't have scarcity then we wouldn't have something here nor there but isn't money outmoded already with Digital Markets and Transaction?
    That extra layer of money just represents a segmented globe an and extra layer we really can't afford anymore. This new replicator tech only drives the point home even further other then Bittorrent and the World Trade Organization Free Trade Zone.

    Extra scarcity to me only causes more corruption and wars over nothing.
    Gridmaster
  • Money could become outmoded but people should still own.

    Why use general scarcity? Sure there is always scarcity. If we didn't have scarcity then we wouldn't have something here nor there but isn't money outmoded already with Digital Markets and Transaction?
    That extra layer of money just represents a segmented globe an and extra layer we really can't afford anymore. This new replicator tech only drives the point home even further other then Bittorrent and the World Trade Organization Free Trade Zone.

    Extra scarcity to me only causes more corruption and wars over nothing.
    Hans Moravec, in his 'Pigs in Cyberspacea' article, describes money as digital virtual banks where items are controlled and manufactured at an atomic level and stored in virtual banks replacing paper money documents.

    Star Trek similarly doesn't use money and Fort Knox on Earth is closed although it could be used as an alternative for privacy of ownership. People should still own there data.
    Gridmaster
  • We already have a glimpse.

    Today you can "replicate" information as easily as the Star Trek replicator would duplicate matter. Music, ebooks, programs can be quickly and easily on your computer. If I want a book I don't have to go to the store to buy it, but can have it delivered to my screen immediately.

    So what do we see as a result? What does it forebode for matter replication?

    DRM. Artificial restrictions to prevent people from doing it. The discussion changes from "property" to the more abstract "intellectual property". These restrictions are put in place not to protect [i]copyrights[/i], but any activity that may have "value", including fair use to which you're entitled under the law.

    With a matter replicator there's no reason to assume that this would be different. The objects themselves might be pulled from thin air, but the designs for those products would be digitally managed, locked down, and priced dearly. You can only replicate what you're allowed to, and only if you pay. If things continue the way they are, replicators will be nothing more than the Home Shopping Channel with slightly faster delivery.

    I think it's reasonable to assume that if you were looking to reduce the impact of money on the social equation, then this kind of trend can't continue. Otherwise, nothing fundamentally changes.

    Open Source [i]does[/i] fundamentally change the equation, though, by recognizing that new technologies reduce the cost of distribution (and soon, manufacturing) to insignificance. It grants to others the rights of distribution that cost nothing. Proprietary vendors recognize the same potential for "unlimited wealth" that you do, but they see it concentrated in their own hot little hands, and it doesn't matter whether it "belongs" to them or not. Witness Microsoft and RSS patents.

    It's clear that the impetus for a "Star Trek" utopia won't be Eugenics Wars or the invention of warp drive. No, if that particular vision of the future is to come to pass, it will be delivered by the open source community, rather than the current crop of proprietary buggy-whip manufacturers and their lawyers.
    dave.leigh9
  • RE: How long to the Star Trek replicator?

    I think that any person would who would dare to create such a device would be dispatched and the technology would be buried. At this point in our culture, Greed and the love of the Power that money gives would out weigh the life of that poor inventor. If such a technology were to be made possible, the only hope for it to ever reach the public is for it to be made public, and given to the world freely. And if the inventor values his life.. He would remain unknown.
    ravious