09/10/2018 by Rose Eveleth
Computers are getting smaller and smaller. But what if we had sensors the size of dust, that could float through the air undetected, talk to one another, gather information, and transmit that information back down to a central place? This is the concept behind smart dust, and it’s more plausible than you might think.
Amy Webb, quantitative futurist and founder of the Future Today Institute
Faine Greenwood, journalist and drone expert
Stacey Higginbotham, journalist, co-host of the Internet of Things podcast
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Listen Date: 2018-10-15
This was a topic I had no super interest in; though I was vaguely aware of it – maybe thanks to reading Michael Crichton’s Prey? Or the trope of nanite swarms from Civilization: Call to Power? I can’t really remember, but it definitely wasn’t from the Discovery Channel hype documentaries the episode mentioned. One thing which was similar in concept, though not in underlying technology, was the Arthur C Clarke book about tiny wormholes for visible light communication – I think it was called The Light of Other Days.
The interesting things or connections I took from this episode:
- The riff on how these tiny sensors will have to power themselves through solar power or temperature differentials, and could make oil companies even less relevant – except as producers of the plastic that would make such sensors light enough to be truly ubiquitious.
- The interview which said that a visible drone was less creepy than an invisible swarm.
- How making such sensors recyclable or cleanuppable could make them prohibitively expensive, but not making them so could lead to huge swarms of dead electronic junk all over the world.
- But on the flip side, the cool idea of embedding such sensors in packaging to see where packaging will end up.
Strangely, the privacy and surveillance aspects weren’t the most interesting or alarming things in this episode, or even the most well described.