"I can repeat the question, but am I bright enough to ask it?"


2003

"What are the pressing scientific issues for the nation and the world, and what is your advice on how I can begin to deal with them?"


Quantum dots consist of trapped electrons with no nucleus. Once confined, the electrons repel one another and form orbitals reminiscent of orbitals we find in actual atoms. Novel substances made from quantum dots will be able to change their properties as easy as a traffic light changes from red to green, and their properties can be adjusted in real-time through the application of light, electricity, and so forth.

Clifford Pickover

Dear President Bush,

We are entering an era of revolutionary scientific change, and you are fortunate to be President of a nation that leads the world in scientific and technological discovery. A top priority for today's science advisor should be on-demand matter, a new area of science now emerging that will have a far-reaching impact on the world's economy and the well-being of humankind.

Perhaps you have heard of printing "on demand," a technology that allows books to be quickly printed to meet the immediate needs of a customer. Similarly, on-demand matter (OM) is just on the horizon and will allow humanity to create new substances quickly and efficiently.

In particular, on-demand matter made from "quantum dots" will someday allow us to produce virtual substances with undreamed of properties. Let me give you some background.

Quantum dots consist of trapped electrons with no nucleus. Once confined, the electrons repel one another and form orbitals reminiscent of orbitals we find in actual atoms. Novel substances made from quantum dots will be able to change their properties as easy as a traffic light changes from red to green, and their properties can be adjusted in real-time through the application of light, electricity, and so forth. Visionary writer Wil McCarthy has coined the word "wellstone" to refer to hypothetical woven solids, made from entities such as quantum dots, whose bulk properties are broadly programmable.

With on-demand matter, humanity will be able to create ecologically friendly industries that produce low-cost and exceptional products. OM can be used to create novel sensors, computing devices, space vehicles, windows, protective clothing, medical prostheses, rooftops, auto parts, and a host of on-demand materials with limitless potential. With just a voice command, your toothbrush becomes a supercomputer, or your umbrella changes to a material that could never be available by other means.

One of the first steps I would make as your science advisor would be to recommend the formation of a number of think tanks to consider the potential of on-demand matter. A modest funding agency to explore OM may one day lead to a technology with the potential to solve a number of the world's problems and empower humanity to sail on a shoreless sea.

Clifford Pickover
Research Staff member, IBM's T. J. Watson Research Center
Author of The Paradox of God and The Science of Omniscience, Keys to Infinity, and the Neoreality science-fiction series.

John Brockman, Editor and Publisher
Russell Weinberger, Associate Publisher

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