If we were to go back in time and visit our caveman ancestors, they would consider some of our most mundane and everyday technologies to be magical. Similarly, aliens who could travel to earth may seem completely supernatural to us. Technology can surely be magical, from a certain perspective. That’s exactly the sort of technology that’s represented in the form of “Utility Fog”. It’s an idea that’s been mulling around the world of nanotechnology for a while now, although the name itself was coined by Dr. John Storrs Hall in 1993.
Not the Foggiest Clue
So, what is utility fog? Basically it’s a swarm of nanorobots. They hold onto each other to form a lattice structure, where they make Harry Potter-like magic a reality. At least, they would if they were real and not completely theoretical. In the fields of both futurism and nanotechnology, utility fog is a technology that is considered hugely important. If it were ever to be made a reality, it would literally change the world. It would be the closest thing we could do to change the real world into a digital paradise.
How Would It Work?
Each individual nanobot, known as a foglet, is absolutely tiny. By itself it can’t do much, but there would be trillions upon trillions of these foglets within the utility fog. Since they can communicate with one another and “hold hands”, they can exert force in any direction and dynamically form objects, even complex machinery.
What Does a Foglet Look Like?
Well, since they don’t actually exist we only have a description of what they might look like. Most concepts of foglets consist of a spherical core with many extendable grappling arms going in all directions. It’s these that the foglet uses to reach out to its fellow nanites to form bonds. This is how it can simulate the molecular properties of various states and types of matter. It can be diamond-solid, flow like water, or anything else in between. When foglets “join hands” they form an electrical circuit, letting them share power and information.
Not Really Foggy
In an interview with J. Storrs Hall, who is a pioneer in the area of utility fog, the actual texture of utility fog would be more like snow than fog.
Casting a Spell
If you had control over utility fog you could make objects appear and disappear at will. You could make just about anything appear out of seemingly thin air. The fog can let you pass without an issue, so you can be surrounded by it. Want a chair? Just as soon as you utter that wish a chair would appear before you. It’s almost like true holodeck technology in the Star Trek vein.
It would also be the ultimate VR experience, with the fog capable of simulating just about any feeling. Water, stone, floating in the air – it should all be possible with some utility fog.
Ghost in the Machine
I’ve written about the central idea of mind-uploading in a different article, but one of the places you could upload yourself to is a utility fog cloud. Your intelligence could be distributed among the foglets; essentially you could live as a solid body made from foglets, but could then shapeshift into nearly anything. It seems like a crazy idea, but it would represent a hybrid of digital existence while still being part of the real world.
Danger Will Robinson!
If all of this seems like it could be dangerous, well – you’re right. Foglets could obviously be weaponized and the technology also turns a lot of human reality on its head. Navigating an amorphous world could be quite a challenge. Things would be popping in and out of existence, including people, all the time. Clearly, a society that has utility fog in it is radically different from the way that we live today.
Just simple issues such as breathing or swallowing foglets could be a roadblock until we figure out how to make them smart enough to prevent that. Foglets could also create things that could easily kill a human. They could cut or crush a person using the same abilities they do for everything else. There are also concerns from people like Hall with regards to the actual programming of foglets. The job they have to do is incredibly complex, so the software needs to be up to the task. This is one area where I disagree with Hall somewhat, since presumably strong or advanced AI will be a contemporary technology with utility fog.
Still, it’s an exciting idea. Probably one of the most profound changes that nanotechnology will bring to our civilization will be in the form of this miracle matter.