SciFi to Reality

Neil Gershenfeld: Building the Hardware from The Diamond Age

July 26, 2021 Neil Gershenfeld Season 1 Episode 1
SciFi to Reality
Neil Gershenfeld: Building the Hardware from The Diamond Age
Show Notes

Neil walks us through his work and how it pertains to building the Young Ladies Illustrated Primer and the nanotechnology as a whole as described in The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson.

Our Website: 

Read The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson:

Check out Neil's work in more detail here:
Neil Gershenfeld's latest book Designing Reality:
The Fab Foundation:

Show Notes:
0:00 - Intro
1:55 - Show starts

4:54 - Neil talks about William Shatner (Captain Kirk!) coming by his lab to illustrate the importance of analyzing the science behind science fiction and begins to point out the importance of the world building around it.

6:30 - Neil talks about Joe Jacobson, the physics around printing and color, and the invention of e-ink, what is used in kindle readers.

12:05 - Neil mentions Von Neumann and Alan Turing, the fathers of modern computation and how they were so much more than the technology we use today that bears their name.

16:14 - Neil explains "digital" in terms of error rates and error correction that is orders of magnitudes better than those errors, allowing unreliable devices to communicate reliably.

See the definitions of head and tape in the Turing machine page.

Von Neumann's ideas on the universal constructor:,_DNA_and_the_universal_constructor

23:40 - Neil talks about the work of a student of his, Prashant Patil. Prashant has worked on making nano-scale robots, which has been spun off into the company Atomic Machines.

27:52 - Neil mentions the work of his student, Manu Prakash, on microfluidic bubble logic in reference to how easy it is to compute.

35:30 - Erik Drexler "complimented" Neil of cheating in his development of nano-machines.

36:15 - Douglas says he’ll pass the torch to Michael and keeps talking

38:00 - Neil talks about environmental sources of energy for the Primer, referencing Joseph Paradiso's work on shoes which could recover energy from walking. He also mentions ways of transmitting energy wirelessly, as researched by Joshua Smith.

38:47 - Neil explains entropy and the potential issues that might crop up from that in The Diamond Age

39:50 - Neil explains Maxwell's Demon and Rolf Landauer's solution.

44:25 - Neil cites two ideas that drove his success: his perspective on computer science vs. physical science, and "ready, fire, aim."

45:55 - Neil talks the design challenges of The Diamond Age.

48:48 - Neil talks the economic challenges of The Diamond Age

57:35 - Outro