Science & Technology

Can nanotechnology create utopia?

By Paul, November 19, 2012

Michio Kaku talking about nanotechnology.

Transcript
Michio Kaku: Throughout human history people have tried to create utopia, the perfect society. In fact, America, the American dream, in some sense was based on utopianism. Why do we have the Shaker movement? Why did we have the Quakers? Why did we have so many different kinds of religious movements that fled Europe looking to create autopia here in the Americas? Well, we know the Shakers have disappeared and many of these colonies have also disappeared only to be found in footnotes in American textbooks, and the question is why?

One reason why is scarcity because back then the industrial revolution was still young and societies had scarcity. Scarcity creates conflict and unless you have a way to resolve conflict, your colony falls apart. How do you allocate resources? Who gets access to food when there is a famine? Who gets shelter when there is a snowstorm and all of the sudden you’ve eaten up your seed corn? These are questions that faced the early American colonists, and that’s the reason why we only see the ghost towns of these utopias.

However, now we have nanotechnology, and with nanotechnology, perhaps, who knows, maybe in 100 years, we’ll have something called the replicator. Now the replicator is something you see in Star Trek. It’s called the molecular assembler and it takes ordinary raw materials, breaks them up at the atomic level and joins the joints in different ways to create new substances. If you have a molecular assembler, you can turn, for example, a glass into wood or vice versa. You would have the power of a magician, in fact, the power of a god, the ability to literally transform the atoms of one substance into another and we see it on Star Trek.

It’s also the most subversive device of all because if utopias fail because of scarcity then what happens when you have infinite abundance? What happens when you simply ask and it comes to you? One of my favorite episodes on Star Trek is when the Enterprise encounters a space capsule left over from the 20th century, the bad 20th century. People died of all these horrible diseases, and many people froze themselves knowing that in the 23rd century or so they’ll be thawed out and their diseases will be cured. Well, sure enough, it’s the 23rd century now. The Enterprise finds a space capsule and begins to revive all these people and cure them of cancer, cure them of incurable genetic diseases, and then one of these individuals, however, was a banker. He is revived and he says to himself, “My God, my gamble worked; I’m alive; I’m in the 23rd century,” and he said, “Call my stock broker; call my banker; I am rich; I am rich; my investments, they have been sitting there in the bank for centuries; I must be a quadrillionaire!” And then the crew of the Enterprise looks at this man and says, ”What is money; what is a bank; what is a stock broker? We don’t have any of these in the 23rd century,” and then they say, “If you want something, you simply ask for it and you get it.”

Now that’s subversive. That’s revolutionary because if all utopiansocieties vanished because of scarcity and conflict, what happens when there is no scarcity? What happens when you simply ask and you get what you want? This has enormous philosophical implications. For example, why bother to work? Why bother to go to work when you simply ask for things and it comes to you?

Now, some sociologists think that if drugs, for example, are totally legalized, absolutely legalized then maybe three to five percent of the human race will become permanent drug addicts. That’s the price for total legalization of drugs. I don’t know, but that’s a number that people talk about. What happens when we have this society based on replicators? Then will we have three to five percent of the human race become permanent parasites? This is a possibility. The whole nature of the human psyche is based around producing things, doing something, making a contribution. What happens when you don’t have to do that anymore? What happens when there is infinite plenty? What happens if there is a utopia?

The detractors will say, “Bah-humbug! There is no replicator; it violates the laws of physics.” Well, actually that’s not true. There actually is a nanobot that can replicate, actually take apart molecules and rearrange them in fantastic ways. Mother Nature has already created it. It’s called the ribosome. The ribosome can take hamburgers, milk shakes and turn them into a baby in nine months. That is a miracle. The ribosome takes hamburgers, French fries, potato chips, breaks apart the molecules and reassembles them into DNA. Mother Nature has created the replicator. It replicates humans, but what happens when humans create replicators by which we can replicate everything? This is a very subversive idea.

What do you think?

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