Hi Craig,
Bjorn Broby Glavind
11

Hello, Bjorn.
I appreciate your interest in my thoughts on this topic. Most people I discuss this with simply dismiss it as pie-in-the-sky, and it’s refreshing to have someone actually ask for more of my poor opinions. Thank you for that.

As for making the transition to a world free of human drudgery, while I do expect there will be some difficulties, I nevertheless believe that it will be easier, come more quickly, and be even grander than either you or I (or anyone) would believe. It’s my opinion that changes beginning in the near term — by which I mean thirty or so years — will ultimately — by which I mean before the end of the current century — change our human society from one of constant struggle and strife, scarcity, starvation, disease and depravity to one of peace and plenty for all, free of illness, free of war, free of want, and even eventually free of death. I see a world in which all of our needs will be supplied by MEMs — micro-electronic machines, with manipulating arms and onboard computers directing and coordinating their activity — which will enable us not only to guarantee a life of abundance for all of humanity, but also to easily rid the world of any and all pollution on land, in the seas, and in the air — to restore our planet to a literally pristine condition, unwitnessed since the dawn of time. How, you may well ask?

As we all know, everything in the universe consists of atoms, and molecules made of atoms. Nature has found ways of manipulating these building blocks and making everything we see around us in the natural world — all of the plants and animals, including ourselves. If we humans were able to do what nature can do at the molecular level, we could produce those things as easily as does nature. Obviously, human fingers are orders of magnitude too big and clumsy to manipulate things as small as molecules. However, they are not too big to make machines which can make even smaller machines which can perform the task of manipulating molecules as we direct them to do, either assembling molecules to make something we desire, or disassembling them to UNmake something we wish to be rid of, breaking it down to its basic components. We KNOW that such machines are possible; every living cell constitutes an example. Thus, creating such machines that will work our will comes down to engineering. There is ongoing research at universities all over the globe in just how to go about engineering these devices, and already some success is being achieved, as illustrated here:

These microrobotic devices are still far too large to perform tasks at the molecular level, but I think that you’ll agree, they are not bad for an early effort.

So, once we have these MEMs, what could be done with them? Virtually anything one can imagine. We could assemble, say, an apple, one molecule at a time. Or a potato. Or a bowl of rice, or a steak, or a glass of water, or an airplane — literally anything made of atoms, which of course is everything. The raw materials are beneath our feet, and in the air around us, and could easily be recovered by these infinitesimal machines, brought to the surface in bucket-brigade fashion. These resources would be equally abundant wherever we found ourselves in the future. Imagine for example a mission to Mars equipped with MEMs, able to provide the explorers with everything they need to survive in that hostile environment. Not only would it enable the use of smaller vehicles to get to Mars, since they would not have to carry the food and water needed to live there, but it would also very greatly simplify their stay on that planet, or any other that we could go to. An additional benefit would be the capability of 100% recycling on board the vessel, nothing wasted.

You may be wondering how long it would take to assemble, oh, a cherry pie, and the answer is that it would take only seconds. You could literally watch the pie take shape before your eyes. Because of their tiny size, these MEMs would operate very, very rapidly, assembling thousands or millions of molecules per second, and millions of them would be working in concert.

As for the disassembly part of this vision — there is at present in the Pacific ocean at least one major patch of floating garbage. Imagine dropping a small capsule of assembler/disassembler MEMs into that patch. They would begin by disassembling enough material to assemble more of their kind, until there were enough of them to cope with the task at hand, and then convert the trash to its component elements, either releasing those elements into the ocean, or storing them for later reuse, or immediately using them to build someting desired — say, a pod of Pacific grey whales, or a school of cod. This sort of thing could be done all over the world, wherever we have left our refuse.

Another fairly obvious use of this technology would be in the field of medicine. Each of us could have our own personal fleet of medical attendants coursing through our blood streams, monitoring our health moment by moment and correcting whatever needed correcting. Disease would become a curiousity of the past, a thing unheard of in the modern world.

As for the difficulties inherent in the transition from a global economy based on human labor, to one in which human labor would be superfluous, I believe that at first we would see many people simply living and enjoying their lives but not really doing anything of merit or consequence. Not really a difficulty, but a horrible waste of human potential. However, humans being what they are, I am confident that everyone, or almost everyone, would soon grow bored with merely existing and consuming, and would soon seek out productive endeavors suited to their unique talents and interests, in the arts or the sciences or whatever may be the case. Of course, there would still be some hedonists who would waste away their lives in idle pleasures, but so what? We wouldn’t need everyone’s efforts in order to have a truly superlative society.

I feel strongly, though I admit to being no expert in human behavior, that the idea of waging war would not be a choice made by many. It’s my belief that the overwhelming majority of people, if not all of us, have as their main interest simply providing for the needs of themselves and their families, and once those needs were provided for by MEMs, the main reason for war would simply cease to exist. The only source of conflict that I can imagine would remain a problem would be religious differences, and I am not at all sure what could be done to resolve those. Fortunately, better and more worldly-wise minds than mine would have the leisure to figure that out.

By no means do I make the claim that all of these ideas are original to me. The main source I used is here:

This is a book from 1991 by Eric Drexler and Christine Peterson, available online at no cost, that I highly recommend to anyone who has an interest in our global future, which ought to be everyone. It is written for the layman, using mostly non-technical language, and explains these concepts in greater depth and with more eloquence than I am capable of. Another link that I found interesting, and not wholly off-topic, is here:

And of course there is a great deal more information on this topic, accessible by web search.