Via Next Big Future, Doctor Suzanne Gildert of the excellently-named Physics & Cake blog takes apart the [science fictional / Singularitarian] concept of computronium, and does a pretty good job of explaining why it probably isn’t possible:
… as we see, atoms are already very busy computing things. In fact, you can think of the Universe as computing itself. So in a way, matter is already computronium, because it is very efficiently computing itself. [This reminds me of Rudy Rucker’s theories about gnarl and universe-as-computing-substrate – PGR] But we don’t really want matter to do just that. We want it to compute the things that WE care about (like the probability of a particular stock going up in value in the next few days). But in order to make the Universe compute the things that we care about, we find that there is an overhead – a price to pay for making matter do something different from what it is meant to do. Or, to give a complementary way of thinking about this: The closer your computation is to what the original piece of matter would do naturally, the more efficient it will be.
So in conclusion, we find that we always have to cajole matter into computing the things we care about. We must invest extra resources and energy into the computation. We find that the best way to arranging computing elements depends upon what we want them to do. There is no magic ‘arrangement of matter’ which is all things to all people, no fabled ‘computronium’. We have to configure the matter in different ways to do different tasks, and the most efficient configuration varies vastly from task to task.
If it’s not too meta a get-out clause, perhaps we could develop some sort of nanotech system for reconfiguring computational substrate matter into the most appropriate arrangement for the task at hand? Talk about an abstraction layer… 🙂
One of the best things about publishing new stories is seeing writers take old ideas and remake them afresh. A few months ago, we had Sandra McDonald remixing the post-apocalypse trope, and now Eric Gregory updates the urban vampire for a nanotech-infested near future in the favelas of the Global South.
“Miguel and the Viatura” mashes up religion, poverty, exploitative corporations and transcendant technology, but remains at its heart a powerful story of character, of a younger brother led astray. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I have.
Miguel and the Viatura
by Eric Gregory
“We’re close,” said Joaõ. “Keep your eyes open.”
It was hard enough to watch the road. Foot traffic was heavy, and police in hardsuits patrolled the walks, faceless behind their faceplates. The air was usually fine in Pinheiros District, but Joaõ had insisted they both wear masks, and Miguel’s eyepieces fogged constantly. “Are we late?” he asked. The only thing worse than crossing the city to see his father would be doing it for no reason at all. If they missed him, Miguel would punch something.
Preferably Joaõ. Continue reading NEW FICTION: MIGUEL AND THE VIATURA by Eric Gregory
Researchers at the University of Augsburg in Germany have developed a blueprint for a kind of quantum electric motor that uses just two atoms:
Their motor consists of one neutral atom and one charged atom trapped in a ring-shaped optical lattice. The atoms jump from one site in the lattice to the next as they travel round the ring. Placing this ring in an alternating magnetic field creates the conditions necessary to keep the charged atom moving round the the ring.
As with many elements of quantum physics it is difficult to imagine precisely what you could do with such a miniscule motor, but for the time being the researchers are seeking to attach the motor to a nanonoscopic resonator, thus making the resonator vibrate.
In the meantime we are left speculating as to what peculiar corners of which unexpected futures devices such as this could find a use and a narrative.
[via Slashdot, from Technology Review][image from Technology Review]
Researchers at the University of Illinois have developed a means by which nanotube-filled capsules could repair electronic circuits when they are damaged:
Capsules, filled with conductive nanotubes, that rip open under mechanical stress could be placed on circuit boards in failure-prone areas. When stress causes a crack in the circuit, some of the capsules would also rupture and release nanotubes to bridge the break.
“Many times when a device fails, it’s because a circuit or capacitor burns out,” says Bielawski. “This is critical in situations where you can’t repair it — in satellites or submarines.” To address the problem, engineers currently build redundancy into a system. Self-healing circuits could make devices for remote applications more lightweight, more efficient, and cheaper, says Bielawski.
Consumer electricals have become increasingly cheap and disposable over the past few years. If this technology is adopted widely and improved could it lead to electricals that continue to function well for many decades? It seems unlikely that companies would choose to lose built-in obsolesence as a marketing tool, but if technologies increase in durability and strictly hardware-based improvements tail off (i.e. it becomes more economical to achieve improvements in performance through software tweaks, instead of relying on Moore’s Law) could it be that we find ourselves with the same mobile-phone/$multi-purpose_personal_electronic_widget for many years, which continually repairs and rebuilds itself when damaged?
[from Technology Review][image from Technology Review]
What technology is invisible to the naked eye and yet both changing and mimicking the world all around us? The idea of hidden change is what started me down this month’s path of nanotechnology. Continue reading The Big World of Nanotechnology