?

Log in

No account? Create an account

Nanotech and the salvation of humanity

« previous entry | next entry »
May. 23rd, 2004 | 04:57 pm

My wasn't that a pretentious title.

So one other idea that's been kicking around in my head that I thought I might toss out and see what others thought about it.

It seems likely that the steadily increasing levels of CO2 in our atmosphere may play havoc on our weather and thus disrupt our global agriculture even as our teeming masses continue to push the limits of our food supply.

Having a few bits of compassion in myself I found this rather depressing and wanted to think of some way of trying to limit this destruction. I did what I could in my own life to try and reduce my environmental impact, drive less, be vegan, etc, but I feel unable to touch the larger culture.

While I was reading the Diamond Age Stephenson proposed a technology I rather enjoyed--floating diamond airships. The idea being that if diamond is strong enough to construct a sphere of vacuum perhaps it would be buoyant in our atmosphere. The idea of travelling around on a nanotech solar powered diamond airship was really appealing.

While fantasising about this I managed to remember a scrap from something I'd read by K. Eric Drexler. He'd proposed that if we did have nanotech one of the problems of the future wouldn't be too much carbon in the atmosphere, but too little. In his world view nanotech machines would be able to grab the CO2 out of the atmosphere, grab the carbon and use it to build stuff--say floating diamond airships.

I also recently wondered if perhaps it would be possible to start using our improved understanding of molecular biology to start building simple nanotech assemblers, and even more dreamy, perhaps provide a technology that could grab carbon out of the air and use it to build stuff.

Perhaps if this could be done the fervent wish of the dominant american culture of having someone save them from themselves might come to pass.

Link | Leave a comment | Share

Comments {7}

Null pointer

(no subject)

from: lawnchair
date: May. 23rd, 2004 05:11 pm (UTC)
Link

I still gotta hope that the sci-fi sounding solutions keep on coming, and soon.

Energy is still one of the major inputs. Nanites might be directly solar powered, but the photon flux on a nanite is pretty small. Conceivably, they could oxidise something, using available O2 (i.e., respirate).

My own crazy hope is that we can genetically engineer plants that release hydrogen gas from water using sunlight. Photosynthesis does this already, but plants immediately lock the H2 into less volatile, but less pure, forms like sugar.

Reply | Thread

Diane Trout

(no subject)

from: alienghic
date: May. 23rd, 2004 05:17 pm (UTC)
Link

I was actually wondering if synthetic biology might eventually provide some useful techniques of how to develop biologically inspired systems that could do nanofabrication. If so perhaps the nanofabricator could be powered by ATP just like most of the other biological systems.

Though I don't know of biology can manage the energy densities needed to assemble carbon into diamond. (perhaps carbon nanotubes might be easier and just as useful.)

Reply | Parent | Thread

her other side

(no subject)

from: saltbox
date: May. 24th, 2004 06:43 am (UTC)
Link

I would worry about bad unintended consequences. After all, freons (you know, those ozone-depleting compounds) were specifically designed to be "better, safer" alternatives to other kinds of refrigerants that were used at the time. The idea was that freons were less reactive and corrosive than those other alternatives (for example, ammonia), and therefore healthier for people. Which it was, on the surface level. The problem was that the exact same characteristic that made it so good on one level made it terrible on the atmospheric level; because the compounds were so unreactive, they had very long lifetimes and could make it really high up into the atmosphere, whereupon chlorine radicals--which destroy ozone---could generated from them.

And that's the problem with reliance on technological fixes. What may seem to be a good characteristic on one hand, could turn around and bite you in the ass.

Reply | Thread

Diane Trout

(no subject)

from: alienghic
date: May. 24th, 2004 04:48 pm (UTC)
Link

I agree with you about the problems of unintended consequences. If possible sequestering carbon as large diamond seems relatively safe, as we've had diamonds laying around for thousands of years and they seem to be pretty unreactive.

I'd prefer it if we could come up with a social solution, but I don't see how to convince america to try something that requires an upfront cost for a later payoff. Our current culture seems to be designed to teach people to do the opposite.

However since I do want there to be an environment in the future and I'm not particularly good at influencing society, but am good at science, the best I can do is to work on a technological fix.

My new theory on how to avoid going insane from an overriding sense of powerlessness and despair is to focus on fixing my immediate world in a way that works for me while trying to avoid causing harm to others. That seems to me to be a s sufficiently ethical path.

Though I do hope that the US economy will implode (like say for instance the soviet union) and that our culture learns something about foresight.

Reply | Parent | Thread

her other side

(no subject)

from: saltbox
date: May. 24th, 2004 04:55 pm (UTC)
Link

If possible sequestering carbon as large diamond seems relatively safe, as we've had diamonds laying around for thousands of years and they seem to be pretty unreactive.

And freon, on the ground level, is also "pretty unreactive". But now you're talking about putting diamonds in the atmosphere. (Lower than freon goes, but still possibly high enough for unexpected possibilities.)

I'm not saying it's bad to think about technological fixes---I think that hybrid cars, for example, might be a decent stepping-stone to a more energy efficient economy. But I do think that reliance on them is extremely dangerous, given our past experience with technological fixes.

Reply | Parent | Thread

Diane Trout

(no subject)

from: alienghic
date: May. 24th, 2004 05:07 pm (UTC)
Link

Ah sorry, I was only thinking of diamond as occasionally being used for things in the atmosphere, I was also thinking in terms of a few large objects floating around. (e.g. the goodyear blimp). Mostly I was imagining that if we had an easy way of extracting carbon from the atmosphere and turning it into diamond we could use it in a variety of building materials, ranging from nifty airship things to ordinary buildings.

Though in the diamond age, they did have machines floating around everywhere that were roughly the size of dust that were small diamond spheres with some computation capabilities. That level of technology is pretty scary.

Reply | Parent | Thread

her other side

(no subject)

from: saltbox
date: May. 24th, 2004 05:13 pm (UTC)
Link

Though in the diamond age, they did have machines floating around everywhere that were roughly the size of dust that were small diamond spheres with some computation capabilities. That level of technology is pretty scary.

See, I think that's what concerned me more---the self-propagating aspect---when I first read your post (and then I got sidetracked). With non-propagating machines, we can at least limit their consequences by building fewer of them. With self-propagating ones, if one of them has a problem we didn't predict, we might have tons of them before realizing, well, oops. Again, I'm not saying they will be all Frankensteinian or anything, just that these possibilities are there.

Reply | Parent | Thread