Slouching Toward Nanotech

OK, now that I’ve gotten that out of my system, I want to discuss more important matters that came up in the process of indulging in my primal tribal urges…

While I was watching college football (in particular the FL-Auburn game), I saw an advertisement.

It was an advertisement for a tool ( not surprising, considering the demographic–it was included amidst other ads about lawn fertilizer, razor blades, fermented malt beverages, hair regrowth tonics, etc.–you know the drill).

Now, I have observed, both from advertisements, and from actually shopping and purchasing from places like Home Depot, over the past few years, that tools for manly men (such as moi of course, and Tim the Toolman ),都在改善质量和降低公关ice, to the point of amazing. When I was a kid (more years ago than I like to think about, or even describe……..all right, it was in the late ’60s and early ’70s), tools were precious implements. They were things to request, generally in futility, from financially-strapped parents, for special occasions, such as birthdays or Christmas. And if such tools were Craftsman, with their lifetime warranty (we couldn’t aspire to such Olympian implements of the gods from Snap-on)…, well, that was more than a birthday–it was a premature visitation to Paradise, and one of which we were obviously and blatantly undeserving.

But enough of the trip down memory lane. The point is, that now I can in fact go down to Home Depot, and find on sale drop-forged tools of which, as a pimply youth, I could only have dreamed, for a price that is a minor blip on my already-overcharged credit cards.

All right, so they’re made in China. Isn’t globalization wonderful?

These tools are not just cheap^H^H^H^H^H affordable–they’re damned useful. They can do things that we could only fantasize about (assume we had a really rich and lustrous fantasy life). In fact, when we see Bob Villa shilling for them, admit it–we are all kicking ourselves wondering why we didn’t come up with this idea so that we too could get ripped off by some venture capitalist who would take our idea and run with it, using his money, and leaving us with an infinitesimal fraction of the company that would exploit it and make millions for someone with more money and smarts than us.

So, why am I boring y’all with this?

I saw an ad for a new kind of tool. A magical, transcendant tool–a tool that I could not have envisioned in my most drug-addled adolescent fantasies. It was a universal wrench, called the Gator Grip (most appropriate, considering I was watching it during the Florida (Gator)-Auburn game at the time). When I saw it, I thought immediately of Hans Morovec’s book, published much over a decade ago (depressing how long ago), called “Mind Children.”

In that book, he described fractal robots, creatures of human invention, into which we would download our minds/souls, and they would have a semi-infinite number of appendages, with which to explore the world around us, manipulate it, and (most importantly) interact with other fractal robots to induce in them pleasure, in a semi-infinite sort of fingular interaction (sorry, I’m not going to get more explicit–this is a family-oriented stream-of consciousness, or in my case, puddle of consciousness…). I.E., robot sex, except sex much better than we can even imagine, unless we subscribe to some of the really hot sites on the net.

Anyway, I digress again (sorry, college football and sex have that effect…).

My point is, that there are tools for gripping stuff (bolts, nuts, various terrorist appendages, if the damned FAA will allow you to carry them) that we couldn’t even conceive of, let alone purchase, when we were acne-challenged kids working on our cars. This particular tool, with which I am now enamored, has a lot of little pins, in circular pattern, on springs, that when pressed against some object, take its shape.

Now, you might say, “What’s the big deal?” And if you’ve never had to work on a mechanical system (car, furnace, pasta maker) for which you either lacked the proper bit, or the head had been stripped beyond recognition, you would be fully justified in such a question.

But if you’re a manly man, like me, who will spend several hours on repairing something that is worth a dollar ninety eight (when his time is worth several tens of dollars per hour on a good day, if doing something actually useful, and who can’t tolerate the thought of actually paying some drone who is obviously less talented than you at fixing stuff), you will immediately recognize the value of such a de-vice.

It is the universal wrench. It can grab anything–broken wingnuts, stripped screws, stripped nuts, misshapen bolts. How could any man worthy of the name not be willing to take out a fourth mortgage on his house for such a mystical de-vice?

Now, to get to the real point of this demented rant, this tool is really a first step. While it is not a nano de-vice in scale, it most certainly is in concept.

Think about it.

Many conceptualizations of nanorobots imagine them fitting themselves to proteins, folded in a unique protein-like manner, and accommodating themselves to the folds.

Here we have a macro-tool that operates on exactly the same principle. No matter how complex or (OK, let’s be honest, we munge them) …, ummmm…compromised (yeah, that’s the word!) fastener interface that it encounters, it contorts itself to grip.

When I saw this, I had two immediate thoughts.

  1. I had to have one of these, for that wood screw I stripped with that screwdriver that I was too cheap to replace, and
  2. This was a significant step toward de-vices that would indeed work on a micrometer or nanometer level, and that in fact we were close to immortality and eternal happiness. And of course, the singularity, in which we would all become (if we are to believe Bill Joy) slaves to the machine overlords, and toil endlessly in their underground sugar caves.

Anyway, I want one…