I write Science fiction and fantasy. Recently I’ve had a story about a group of people in the first wave of Martian settlers. “Hell’s Deep” in Building Red ( http://www.amazon.com/Mission-Mars-Building-Janet-Cannon/dp/1940442079/ref=asap_bc?ie=UTF8) This story brought me to a great book titled Packing for Mars: The curious Science of life in the Void by Mary Roach (http://www.amazon.com/Packing-Mars-Curious-Science-Life-ebook/dp/B003YJEXUM/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1461348190&sr=1-1&keywords=packing+for+mars) Mary wrote an amusing and thought provoking book. So the thing that has been bothering me is the question, “What do you pack when any hope of replacement/repair is on the other side of an uncrossable divide?”
Seriously, what do you do, as a writer of fiction, when your character has what would otherwise be a mundane problem. If you character needs food, but the biome they are in is incompatible. Star Trek solved the problem with the “Replicator.” Based on transporter technology, it draws energy and turns it into any matter you like. My mind rebels at that explanation. If you understand Einstein’s E=MC^2 then you realize the the energy required to make a gram of sweet honey would be more than the energy released by the largest fusion bomb man ever made. Replicators can’t work that way. So you can’t feed the crew or replicate the broken Framastat(tm).
Nano bots: If you stipulate nano technology then the replicator device uses some form of matter as a source and nanotech. Little molecule sized robots re-arrange “A” matter into “B” matter. Ok. If you do that it’s a short step to matter is matter and to the little bots, parts is parts, what prevents them from making more of themselves or turning parts of the machine into “B” matter? There are chemical compounds, oils, that have a tendency to “crawl” out of their containers. If the little guys escape their machine, what prevents them from turning any matter into “B” matter. Imagine ordering a rare roast beast steak and the next day discovering that your machine is surrounded by half completed replicas of last night’s dinner. The fear that some scientists have today is that a self replicating nanobot would turn everything into more of itself. It’s called the grey goo nightmare. Google it. I think we might be in more danger from sweet honey or steaks.
The problem with nanobots is that the technology can become the gloss over solution that is really just deus ex-machina or the author’s failure to ask “what if” one more time. Nanobots are envisioned as a distributed computer that does magical things by doing mundane things microscopically trillions of times. Want a glass of water? The nano can ‘hold hands’ to create a glass or goblet or cinderella’s slipper into which other nano gather individual water molecules to slake your thirst. As a matter of fact, you don’t need the glass, there’s no reason why the nano could’t put the water directly into your mouth or what ever passes as an intake orifice for your species.
AI“Artificial Intelligence.” This I think is a subject to contemplate for another day.