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New Bits

"Atoms are the new bits!" said an enthusiastic speaker at a recent research conference. He was promoting the notion that, like software, if you can imagine something soon you'll be able to manufacture it by pushing atoms into the right locations — or, more accurately, by making it with a custom small-scale fabrication system. Wired magazine last year had an excited article on the same theme [1].

Really? I'm skeptical, as I am about most such rosy suggestions. The economics of fabricating "stuff" might change radically in the near future, but the price of most objects includes significant costs associated with the energy used to produce them and the raw materials that go into them. It's hard to reduce those basic expenses much. Robotic machine shops and personal 3-D printers aren't going to crank out personal jet-cars tomorrow. But maybe small, relatively simple artifacts — designer swimsuits? smartphone cases? — will become easier to custom-produce.

(cf. TheNewTwenty (2004-02-16), Bespoke (2009-10-07), ...) - ^z - 2011-12-01