The Itzu Project
The word "Itzu", I hear, is Japanese for either "one and the same"
or "pain in the stomache", depending on how you pronounce it.
Back when I believed that my
catalytic perpetual motion machine would work, and I was very into
nanotechnology, I started hammering out what the distant future might
actually be like. I had some ideas of what changes would happen, but
what is implied by the changes? How would they interact?
This is what I came up with.
Basics of the itzu universe
- When there are several reasonable solutions, all of them will be
used, producing variety.
- Nanotechnology will happen.
- Things will reach a steady state -- no more technological
progress, no more growth, all matter and energy is accounted for.
Fashion and culture will change forever, as does the weather.
- The colonization of space will happen. Gravity makes going up and down
harder than going sideways, which forces cities on planets to be
two-dimensional. Think how much shorter your commute would be if
Silicon Valley was in space! Some planets may be dismantled to
provide more matter for colonies.
- Humans will be obsolete. A nanotech computer that simulates a
human brain would be much smaller than a human brain, much faster,
would require less energy and maintenance, and could be backed up or
rebuilt from scratch. People in space get motion sickness, eat a lot,
have trouble going to the bathroom, need space suits, and so on.
- The earth will be preserved in its entirety as a sort of museum
and nature reserve. There will still be bushmen and Amish farmers.
- Space will be populated by itzu. I made up the term. They
are of nanotech construction, built to live in zero gravity.
What today is built to live in zero gravity? Ants. Itzu will be
smaller than mice, at least as smart as humans, and will probably
resemble bugs or crabs. They will come in many shapes and sizes.
- Itzu will live in cities. The matter of the city is itself
alive, and governs itself and its inhabitants. Groups of cities will
form democracies. (You can't get cities too large or too close to one
another, or gravity becomes a bother).
- Cities will fill a set of
orbits circling the sun that prevents collisions, keeps neighbors
next to neighbors, and can fill a donut-shaped 3-dimensional region.
It is possible to map where cities are, and there is a sense of
locality. Note that gravity is attractive, but itzu jumping from one
city to another is repulsive. The pressure for cities to fly apart
may be greater than that of gravity pulling them together; cities may
need to be tethered in place.
- Cities will not usually be cold, metallic, and gray. They may
resemble red coral reefs, or green lattice structures like huge
diamond crystals, or soft black tangles of plants, or blue bags of
- Itzu will be backed up, just as hard drives are backed up today.
Insurance is a first profession.
Insurance companies will be in the business of collecting
backups, maintaining the backups as reliably and efficiently as
possible, and recreating itzu from the latest backup when something
happens to them. That means that itzu are immortal.
- If all itzu are immortal, won't it get crowded? Well, no, there's
a lot more space than matter. But won't all the matter get used up?
They say two things you can count on: death and taxes. Itzu can't
count on death, but if they live in a community they can count on
taxes. And taxes mean matter taxes, including the matter they are
composed of. And if they can't pay for their own weight, that
eventually means death.
- Tax collecting is a second profession.
Home decorating is a third
profession. Many itzu will live somewhere, and that somewhere will
beg to be decorated. That decoration will be entirely a subject of
- Fishing is fourth profession, and it means wandering empty
space and gathering matter. I imagine fishers would look like a
fishing reel, just a spinner and one very long tongue. They'd be
bigger than normal itzu and as black as solar cells. Fishers don't
pay matter taxes, they are a city unto themselves. But fishers must
protect themselves from being gathered by other fishers.
- Movers are a fifth profession. They move things from here
- Plants are a sixth profession. They gather light and
convert it to chemical energy, to be used by other itzu.
- Travellers are a seventh profession. They shoot out into
the universe in all directions at about the speed of light, hoping to
find a solar system that doesn't have any itzu yet so they can build a
world to their liking.
- Itzu will talk like computers talk -- with light directly, or
through fiber through the city. They'll be more likely to display a
scene than describe one. All potentially interesting experiences will
be recorded, readily available, and indexed. What could you do if you
had a photographic memory? Thoughts would still be private, and
quantum cryptography guarantees that private conversations will also
- The speed of light makes other itzu colonies beyond the solar
system of negligible importance. They are there, but so what.
That is the general shape of the itzu universe.
The city of Reef
Next I tried building a single city, its inhabitants, its
transportation network, its culture, the games its itzu play, and so
The city is Reef, it is based on a red coral reef and New
York, New York. It would be about a kilometer cube. The basic shape
would be like a diatom, a hollow sphere with spikes radiating out in
all directions. No air; vacuum. For transportation, the spikes would
have tubes which the itzu would fly through. How would they fly with
no air? Some sort of magnetic propogation. Open question.
There is a game called Earth. It is played with a very large ball
in a slightly larger chamber, with two teams of itzu. The goal is to
get all of your team on the ball, and all of the other team off.
Remember that there is no gravity.
There is another game played with a rope which is like volleyball.
Your team keeps the rope from hitting your side of the court, and
you're not allowed to cross to the other team's side of the court. I
imagine the court being shaped like the inside of a peanut shell.
Even with all this background, I can't imagine what life would be
like for an itzu, so the story stops here.
What if we were invaded by aliens?
People talk about aliens invading. There's even an insurance
company in England that sells Alien Impregnancy Insurance. What do
you think would happen if a traveller hit our solar system? Would we
see giant UFOs hovering in the sky, threatening to blow us up? And
could we fight it off with jets and atomic bombs?
First he'd set up defenses so that no other traveller could invade
his solar system. Next he'd probably make a bunch of backup
copies of himself to make sure he doesn't accidentally get wiped out.
Then he'd take an inventory of what was his, and find us. (Actually
he'd know about us long before he arrived in the solar system, from
our radio broadcasts.)
How would we first learn there was an alien? He's only a meter
cubed or smaller, so we wouldn't see him in space. Would he land on
earth? What for? If he's only interested in mining matter, we'd
probably first notice that the asteroid belt was dissolving.
If the alien is interested in Earth life, he'd send a
copy of himself down to earth. What would he look like? He'd hide,
like a birdwatcher. Maybe he'd look like a rock. Or a bird. Or an
ant colony. Or maybe bacteria, and he'd infect everyone and
everything. To detect such an alien, impulsively knock something small
in your home into liquid helium, then examine strips of it with
an atomic force microscope. That might catch him before his probes
self-destruct. Maybe. You'd probably notice the alien first because
of the asteroid belt dissolving.
(At first I thought gravity wells were a problem, but I was reading
Neal Stephenson's "Diamond Age" and it appears they aren't. Nanotech
makes it easy to build things lighter than air (you put a vacuum
inside), so going between space and a planet's surface isn't really a
problem as long as the planet has an atmosphere.)
Suppose the alien wants to teach things to the humans. He could
pretend to be a human, or plant the ideas in people's heads. He could
appear as a little green man with tentacles. He could come down from
the sky like a human with wings in a dazzling white toga, and a
glowing gold ring over his head. Whatever.
Suppose we learned this alien was there, and we wanted to get him
off our planet or out of our solar system. What could we do about it?
Nothing. Remember the backups he made of himself out around Pluto?
We could vaporize the whole planet Earth and still not affect him.
Our only hope would be to develop nanotechnology first so we can meet
the travellers on their own level.
The best guesses are that we will reach nanotechnology in ten to
twenty years, and nanotechnology will reach this level of maturity
within a few hundred years. If the aliens aren't here already, the
chances of them showing up before we're ready for them are awfully
Now isn't that a reassuring thought.
Pentagons that tile the plane
Why there aren't any perpetual
Computing the HOMFLY knot polynomial
Dirigiped design page
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