I was just sitting here in my chair after a few STF's and my ADHD started working again in the background. I thought to myself as a species we have literally been able to concieve and build what ever we have put our hearts and minds too.
So, lets get on with it shalle we. I know that we have been working on nanotech. We've been trying to make little robot surgical teams to kill cancer, tumors ect. I was wondering if maybe we can engineer some that can actually take flight? Since they are microscopin they should be able to, throught use of a small impeller, fly.
If they can, why not built them to be capable of emitting light or change their light refractive / reflection by having multi-texture variable goemetry skin?
Now if we can do that in 20 years and 20 years after that be able to make them exert force, Holodecks or Photonic beings could exist!
First thought: True nanomachines are small enough that an impeller won't let them fly, they're small enough that the particle density of air becomes an actual consideration. That's not to say they can't fly, but they'd behave more like smoke than a swam of helicopters, and machines that can control their movement enough to even maintain a cloud are optimistically something our grandchildren will see.
As for the rest, right now nanomachines are extremely specific - they're closer to highly specialized chemicals than machines. You can't just tack on more capabilities or use one for a similar but different purpose. Those robotic surgical teams are like this. They don't intelligently seek target cells, record information, or perform any real process. They simply bind to certain molecules associated with certain kinds of abnormal growth while having little impact on normal cells. And that's all they can do. Inject them into somebody with a neuromuscular disease, or even one of the hundreds of forms of cancer they won't work on, and that person just took a million dollar dose of a placebo with poorly understood side effects.
Programmable nanomachines are 25-50 years away by more optimistic estimates. More pessimistic estimates put them 100+ years because programmability isn't a necessary feature for most early applications and development is more likely to focus on single purpose machines. And that's still a very simple device - an EMH would require a programmable logic device exceeding the best computers that exist today, and we're talking about decades before nanomachines will be able to count. As for distributed computing, there's still a minimum complexity you need there - below a point the overhead eats the gains, and either way each individual part has to be able to handle a segmented task, the distributed system doesn't act as a single super-CPU.
A Star Trek style hologram might be possible, but probably not as a product of nanotechnology.
As for an artificial doctor, by the time nanotech has the theoretical basework for some of these things, traditional robotics will already be there, pioneering new forms of surgery, a different kind of hospital, and probably innovative new kinds of malpractice lawsuits. We have robots capable of performing surgery, but not the intelligence to do so on their own. We don't have machines capable of making diagnoses yet, though IBM's Watson has demonstrated a system by which that could happen within the next few years. Watson might actually be strong enough, if an accurate enough database could be compiled, as its entire purpose is to find the best fit entry to a described item, but it wouldn't be something a hospital would trust - there are enough highly similar diseases as it is, but Watson's database lead it to make some really weird assumptions that luckily didn't come up on Jeopardy.
I was thinking about the flight aspect. Yeah, I don't think a single molecule of air could be pushed through and even smaller impeller blade. It would be like pushing a watermelon down a straw. Maybe they can work to form a structure magnetically? The could have linkage on all sides where they can inter-connect with one and other? I'm just brainstorming, I'll post up a sketch when I get home around 1am.
Thanks for the dose of reality brother. This will help me no doubt. I wish more people would respond like you instead of just flaming me.
Holodecks and EMHs will most likely never be real.
Nanomachines that work in our body may eventually be made in some form, but probably not resembling Startrek nanites much. I figure something far more specialized than that. And it's not that easy to run around with stuff in your brain, for example - that's pretty densely packed where it matters and you can't just send a colony of machines there without risking damage.
Even if you could get those nanites flying, creating them so they can refract or create enough light to act as "3D" Pixels would require a lot of energy that they have no way to store. Even if they were entirely passive, refracting light in the way sot hat multiple people could see a consistent reality would be hard. And of course - nano- and micro-robots are small. You'd need a ridicilous amount of them to cover the area. And then they are stil solid, so they'd stand in the way. And you'd also want them to feel like various types of surface (water, sand, skin etc.) and try to replicate certain visual impressions as the same time. That's asking a lot from some tiny machine.
It seems easier to build 3D Cameras and use that to create virtual realities. And maybe later have some type of implants (may already cause the aforementioned brain-space problem) or electrodes attached to your body that can artificially stimulate your nerves and synapses to create a convincing illusion.