1.What is Programmable Matter about? A short introduction

Published on 25th June 2021
Written by Liao Choon Way

photo of three magnetic cubes

Programmable Matter in the context of this site, concerns the ability to manipulate physical matter the same way as computer programs can manipulate data in computers.

In software, with the source code, we can run it on the computer, provide some inputs and get some results. If we don’t like the results we can change the inputs and run the program again without much manual effort. Even if the instructions or source code is very lengthy, it does not require frequent manual intervention in order to complete the job.

If drastic complex changes are required and has to go through several stages of incremental implementation and refinement, it is relatively quick to iterate through gradual improvements while stably converging on the goals.

With hardware however, fabricating a physical item would require constant human intervention. Changes are limited, and may require complete scrapping of the existing parts. Tools and labour required to develop and fabricate a physical item comparable in utility to a software item would take up a lot more space and time.

This results in a minimalist hardware / software heavy solution for most products. While this is not a problem per se - not all features can be relegated to software. This introduces restrictions on what kinds of items we can fabricate at a low cost. Items of such nature include semiconductor fabs, spaceships, orbital skyhooks, Dyson swarms etc.

If physical matter itself were to be made as flexible as software, then it would contribute greatly towards our progress towards reaching a Type II civilisation on the Kardashev scale.

It is towards these goals that this site is dedicated to.