Monday, September 28, 2009

65. Terbium



Terbium is to morphorobotics what silicon is to computers. Its magnetostrictive alloys lengthen or shorten when exposed to magnetic fields. Since they can store a lot of strain energy, they are the heart of the nanomotors, artificial muscles, and slight engines that make morphobots so infinitely adaptable.

It took decades of dedicated research and development to create the terbium-based micomachinery that made the first human-shaped robot possible. It took one bored teenager a long and rainy weekend to convert the family Jeeves into the world's first morphobot.

To appreciate the wonder of these common household devices, try to assume the mind-set of our primitive, apelike ancestors of the twenty-first century. Pretend you've never seen a morphobot prepare lunch. Now watch:

At rest, a morphobot looks exactly like an attractive young man or woman, only far more attentive and eager to please. It receives its order with a delighted smile and, relaxing its hold on the anthropomorphic, scuttles down the hall on centipede legs. It flows down the stairs like a snake. In the kitchen, it resumes human form.

Not too human, of course! The morphobot's fingers become blades that peel and slice the potatoes, then merge into a cooking pot which is promptly filled with oil (piped via temporary networks of tubing from a nearby cupboard) and held over the gas range's flames. While the fries crisp, one leg has converted itself to a buffer and is polishing the kitchen floor. Another arm has extruded itself into the workings of the refrigerator and is performing routine maintenance. A third arm is, of course, frying up the hamburgers, while spatula-tipped tentacles make the buns from scratch and flash-bake them in the insta-oven.

Meanwhile, what look like wispy tendrils are sampling the environmental and biological health of their surroundings. Other microtools are, perhaps, seeking out, selecting, sorting, and labeling spores from various opportunistic fungi, for a high school science project one of the children is working on. These same microtools, incidentally, can be (and have been) used to impregnate both household pets and the lady of the house with preselected genetic material.

Imagine your wonder if this were not an everyday sight! Imagine how delighted you would be!

The chief use of morphorobotics is of course for sexbots—and no need to go into the specifics of that! Everybody knows as much of the polymorphous delights of protean sex as they desire to know. It is the rare citizen who can glance at the Kama Sutra without laughing at its supremely unimaginative lack of invention.

Sociologists tell us, incidentally, that it's been at least thirty years since anybody has had the bad taste to have sex with another human being.

© 2002 by Michael Swanwick and SCIFI.COM.

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