Programmable & Smart Matter -

Programmable & Smart Matter

Isaac Arthur
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The future may see advancements in claytronics, memory metals, and catoms to allow shapeshifting materials that can take on any form and perform any job – possibly even taking on human form itself.

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Programmable & Smart Matter
Science & Futurism with Isaac Arthur
Episode 336, March 31, 2022
Written, Produced & Narrated by Isaac Arthur

David McFarlane

Cover Art:
Jakub Grygier

Jeremy Jozwik
Sergio Botero

Music Courtesy of Epidemic Sound


  1. I'm Stopping now. I'm done arthur it has been a good run.

  2. An atom IS fortunately named, as removing parts of it (be it electrons, protons, neutrons or quarks) alters its properties, it is thus the smallest unit of a given element

  3. Catoms will almost surely get their power through thermal fluctuations in Graphene as the needed tech has already been created and it basically converts ambient vibrations into electricity, like…. guided entropy at the end of the day.

  4. Sorry to be off-topic but litho-break is still one of my most favorite words the english language has to offer. It is just so delightfully scientific.
    When first hearing it I thought it was just a joke-term for KSP.

  5. The expanse has protomolecule that is the best "smart matter" representation i have seen in a scifi so far

  6. Lithobraking is by far the best new word I've heard in the past decade. Nice wordsmithing! 🙂

  7. I've looked forward to a life as a sapient nano swarm for over a decade. 🙂 Hopefully as many as possible of us make it there.

  8. Transformium… Awful movie. but the concept is there.

  9. Artificial Chromatophores seems like an early programmable matter.

  10. Great vid, thank you for the time you put into these.

  11. Very small robots will probably use chemical energy just like living cells. Chemistry is the only system really portable enough for such purposes

  12. I'd like to see and episode about what things might be like if the nanomachines that repair our cells and stitch our bodies back together deviated far enough during their self-replication to essentially become an infectious disease, as well as how the nanomachines guarding our body would react to them. Would they simply repair the cells as always, and would some evolve to fight the deviants like a secondary immune system? Perhaps specialized immune nanomachines would be part of the system from the start to neutralize deviations, like how natural killer cells deal with forming cancers.

  13. It's still amusing to me that nano- and microtechnology is still basically just reinventing the wheel that life's been using for billions of years but with more energy available

  14. 24:23 The clip where Micheal Jackson turns into a car and a huge robot comes to mind.
    He was quite ahead of his time in some aspects.

  15. Kent read, Kent write, Kent state. Go zips!

  16. The idea of cloaks coming back into fashion proves that Isaac Arthur really does dream of a better tomorrow.

  17. I'm convinced that biomachinery is going to be the next big technology of the near future, although I can't figure if massively parallel bio CPUs will be faster than light based or quantum CPUs. But this took it a couple of steps further. I didn't know that Dr. Strange's cloak was a nanomachine, but a lot of the details work out.

  18. if anybody knows the upper limit to claytronic matter strength pls tell, i would like to find material on the topic

  19. The problem I tend to consider is the factor of Thermodynamics. Many of these magical transformations we talk of might end up doing some really weird things such as burst into flames or freeze to 2 Kelvin because if we attempt to form structures at any relatively decent speed it is highly likely to generate so much heat it turns to plasma or requires so much energy from its surroundings it instantly freezes anything it touches.

  20. I was so hoping for describing approaches to self replicating machines and structures, and machine learning in software

  21. Transformium!!! I've been asking science YouTube channels to talk about programmable matter for years!! Thanks!

  22. The discovery of programmable matter could be a great filter for many species they can essentially invent themselves into a static existence of not needing or wanting anything possibly just becoming the scenery on their planet with no need or desire to communicate with outsiders and with each other

  23. I'm a bit disappointed not to hear anything about what Wil McCarthy called "wellstone" — matter that through the manipulation of quantum wells can literally be programmed at the subatomic level to be (half of) any material you can envision, such as vibranium or adamantium.

  24. I choose the assurity of Steel… Or whatever we make it out of.

  25. what if you make catoms that "melt" into a harder material, minus one that deconstructs the now "dumb matter" into more catoms.

    so it can retain/have the tensile strength of various materials.

    but how would they get the heat 🤔

  26. You goals are too normal, if it can assemble anything, it can also deliver anything, for example make all the nutrients delivered transdermally not even needing to eat.

  27. lithobreaking always cracks me up, be it in a joke or as a serious consideration 😀

  28. Why you sound like Sheldon’s nemesis on the show

  29. 'tea from a microwave'???? what fresh madness is This??

  30. Imo not being able to transform into complex machinery or even a gun seems quite plausible, specially since it got destroyed by falling to the foundry and every gunshot actually caused it some damage, albeit not permanent, for sure some of its own matter got destroyed each time it was getting shot, so turning himself into a gun barrel would have make him look like a flower each time he would shoot a round, and the complex machinery part would be more about him being a single entity hence if he transformed into several pieces he would lose control over some of them which would either not transform back into liquid, or most likely would instantaneously transform into liquid and try to reach his body once those parts lost the connection to him like when he got turned into ice, got shattered and then melted back

  31. I'm so happy to hear you say that a human being isn't just his cells and their DNA. We host as many microorganisms as we have cells (roughly), and they are essential for our survival just like "our" cells. We also have around 35% of our mass as extracellular stuff like bones, blood plasma or extracellular matrix. This matter isn't made of cells but is essential to form us as well.

    For those interested, one can even shift the definition of what is a human being as follows : a collection of mitochondria that inhabit "houses" called cells. From this point of view cells aren't even alive, only the mitochondria are. I'm not saying this as a truth, but as an interesting perspective shift that's as valid as the usual view.

  32. Oooo I know that animation in the beginning

  33. I always wondered why cars couldn't be made of memory metal

  34. I would like to thank you. Your work has improved my problem solving skills, my knowledge of cosmology and even my outlook on life. Best of Days to you and yours.

  35. Reminds me of the Proto Molecule from the expanse.

  36. I always tought about cartoons and theire "toon powers" to be a super advanced civilization left nothing to discover anymore just goofing around waiting some unfathomable computation to be completed or just having a blast before a calculated end will come.

  37. If smart matter had some additive manufacturing/replication/self-replication capability, then it could extend beyond what it's material properties are.

    Imagine it like our stomach lining, constantly replicating and producing mucus to ward off the damage from the acid.

    You could contain very high temperatures with a sort of carbon membrane that constantly grows, replenishes a layer of carbon protecting from immense heat.

    Add active cooling and it could withstand much hotter conditions.

    You could build a spaceship with a maintenance free heat shield like this.

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