Intel CTO On Programmable Matter

Take note of some interesting stuff on ZDNet from Intel’s CTO about the future of kooky science fiction nanobots:

SAN FRANCISCO, CA–Mobile phones in future could be thumb-sized in pockets, and in practically an instant, be effortlessly transformed into PDA-sized devices to send e-mail.
In the final keynote of the Intel Developer Forum (IDF) Thursday, Justin Rattner, Intel’s chief technology officer, shed some light on work around programmable matter, as he teased the audience with what Intel believes would apply as technology in the next four decades.
The idea of programmable matter, he explained, revolves around tiny glass spheres with processing power and photovoltaic for generating electricity to run the tiny circuitry. These particles called catoms would move relative to one another via electrostatic.
The concept of programmable matter can be thought of as “the ultimate form of digital printing”, Rattner told ZDNet Asia Wednesday in an interview. “You literally could make an object of any imaginable shape, or design an object of any imaginable shape, and simply ‘hit the print command’ and the matter would take that shape.
“[The late] Arthur C. Clarke (famed British author and inventor) had this wonderful quote: ‘Any technology sufficiently advanced is indistinguishable from magic.’ And that’s what programmable matter is–it’s a technology so advanced it might as well be magic,” he said.

I find Mr. Rattner referencing Arthur C. Clarke’s famous dictum kinda inappropriate here — probably because I think Clarke is completely wrong in terms of real-world technology, though absolutely correct in terms of science fiction (which is, I believe, how he meant it when he said it). But it makes for a good soundbite.
A few days ago, I encountered a crescent wrench produced by a 3D printer. These devices are used for prototyping, and are kinda similar to laser printers. Laser printers use little particles of stuff to put printing on paper; 3D printers use little filaments to put 3D objects into space. The crescent wrench I saw actually had moving parts.
Image: Nanotech Foglet, single particle of hypothesized utility fog, a type of nanobot swarm of tiny robots working together. Public domain, by Steven Martin, from Wikipedia.

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