Fat Steve's Blatherings

Wednesday, May 04, 2005

Nonsense on Stilts

      One of the things I find alternately amusing and exasperating is the way people project fantasies as realistic possibilities in life.  If you have psychological problems, go visit a shrink.  Don't insist that we listen to you, and especially, don't insist that we take you seriously.

      Consider nano-technology, the idea of making things by manipulating matter at the atomic level,  The anti-nanotech crowd comes up with a horror movie scenario in which there are little machines that can reproduce themselves.  They just reduce the entire earth to 'gray goo,' as nano-bots take everything apart and convert it into more nano-bots.

      Well guess what, the nano-bots already exist.  They're called bacteria, and you may have noticed they can't convert every substance into more bacteria.  That's because of issues of raw materials, energy, and the general laws of nature not allowing such things.

      But the pro-nanotechnology crowd is no better.  Instead of nano-tech as evil monsters from fairy tales, they have nano-tech as good fairies that grant all wishes.

      Glenn Reynolds invites you to:
Imagine owning an appliance the size of a refrigerator, full of nano-assemblers, that ran on sunlight and dirt and made pretty much everything you need, from clothing to food.

      OK, I'll imagine it.  I want a pickup truck.  It weighs maybe four tons.  It's mostly made of steel, so I just shovel in four tons of iron . . . wait a minute, I don't have iron, I have dirt.  If it's 1% iron, I'm lucky.  So I shovel in four hundred tons of dirt, and the machine extracts the iron . . . wait a minute.  The machine runs on sunlight, it will take a long time to accumulate all the energy to process four hundred tons of dirt to remove the iron.  So I shovel in four hundred tons of dirt, over a long period of time (and shovel three hundred ninety six tons of dirt that comes out the bottom, stripped of iron), and the machine makes me a truck . . . wait a minute, the machine is the size of a refrigerator.  How is it going to make a pickup again?

      Wish fulfillment fantasies or horror stories, all I can say is -- grow up, people.



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