As a child of the Sixties, the TV show Star Trek factored heavily into my psyche as it did many others who were amazed by things like the transporter, phasers, and communicators. For me it was the “replicator” which held my fascination as much like a genie in the bottle, with this device, one could wish for anything and have it delivered to them over and over again.
So was this really a machine? As it appeared to have no visible moving parts as it’s special effects creators gave it a beam scanning from the center outward which delivered to the requester the wished for product. Well what does this have to do with the price of tea today you ask? Well it’s not the discussion of 3D printers or the like as even these machines are outdated. What I’m talking about is the “Age of Materials” as the machine is slowly and quietly fading into the background. In turn Material Sciences are making astounding leaps forward, by drastically changing what was once only a dream to be an actuality.
As in the Age of Materials we are now able to work at the atomic level shaping the individual atoms within a material to do our bidding as even the device which this is being written on (the iPad) is no longer a machine. As there are no moving parts such as spinning disks, or tactical keys, only integrated circuits and batteries. Focusing back on the “replicator” concept for a moment, the semi conductor steps forward as the real world example of this as it is a non-science fiction version of the scanning beam which magically yields maybe not a hot drink or sandwich, however something far more powerful, yes data.
Think about the origin of the computer, where they were once “machines” formed by gears and levers resulting in a crude calculating apparatus. Then along came the electro-mechanical relays which automated the prior tasks by replacing the churning of the gears with that of the clicking of the contacts to create a string of ones and zeros. Then as time wore on, the continuous clicks were also replaced with the silent yet warm glow of the vacuum tube.
Then on a chilly day in December of 1947 the world changed very quietly, yet profoundly as the commercial transistor came on the scene first allowing us to take our radio along in our pocket. Then fast forward to today as one can carry with them the equivalent of a moderate sized local library and then again every 18 months or so this ability doubles. Here is where the science of “materials” has sent the machine to the background. Then one of the largest game changers came in the material sciences world which placed the final nail rhetorically speaking in the pine coffin of the machine.
This marvel was the introduction of the flat panel display be-it LCD, plasma, LED or liquid paper all are members of the “material” revolution. Here the once venerable CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) which once graced our homes have now also faded into the trash receptacle of the past. What does all this mean other then the fact that we can now buy a 60 inch wide TV screen (something which was impossible in the machine age)?
The answer can be found in the words of Gordon Moore (Moore’s Law)as we enter the “material” world we can expect a doubling of abilities every 18 to 24 months. This is why over your life the car you drive is pretty much as it was when you were born and even not too far off the first Model-T which rolled off of ole Henry Ford’s assembly line nearly 100 years ago.
Another example is the printed book, as I’ve written a lot in the past about it’s demise. As it too is a mechanical object which makes it slow to produce, expensive to stock and transport as well as inflexible to update. However it’s “material” replacement the ebook carries with it none of these restrictions nor any of these challenges.
While we still maybe a ways off from a replicator in our kitchen, we however already have the next best thing “material sciences” in our appliances, TVs and vast array of consumer goods which allow us to experience and do things which were unthinkable only a decade ago…