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(Basic Books, Mar '03, ISBN 0-465-04429-8, $US 16.00)

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The Flick of a switch: A wall becomes a window becomes a hologram generator.  Any chair becomes a hypercomputer, any rooftop a power or waste treatment plant.

Programmable matter is probably not the next technological revolution, nor even perhaps the one after that. But it's coming, and when it does, it will change our lives as much as any invention ever has. Imagine being able to program matter itself--to change it, with the click of a cursor, from hard to soft, from paper to stone, from fluorescent to super-reflective to invisible. Supported by companies ranging from Levi Strauss to IBM and the Defense Department, solid-state physicists in laboratories at MIT, Harvard, Sun Microsystems, and elsewhere are currently creating arrays of microscopic devices called "quantum dots" that are capable of acting like programmable atoms. They can be configured electronically to replicate the properties of any known atom and then can be changed, as fast as an electrical signal can travel, to have the properties of a different atom. Soon it will be possible not only to engineer into solid matter such unnatural properties as variable magnetism, programmable flavors, or exotic chemical bonds, but also to change these properties at will.

Wil McCarthy visits the laboratories and talks with the researchers who are developing this extraordinary technology; describes how they are learning to control its electronic, optical, thermal, magnetic, and mechanical properties; and tells us where all this will lead. The possibilities are truly magical.

Wil McCarthy is a novelist, the science columnist for the SciFi channel, and the Chief Technology Officer for Galileo Shipyards, an aerospace research corporation.


An Alternate Selection of the Library of Science Book Club
An Alternate Selection of the Science Fiction Book Club
An Alternate Selection of the Scientific American Book Club
A Selection of How-To Media (aka Science News Books)
Nanotechnology Now "Best of 2003"
U.S. Patent No. 6,978,070, "Fiber incorporating quantum dots as programmable dopants" #4 Bestseller


"When he experimented with lightning, Ben Franklin mused that electricity 'might someday prove of use.'  Now comes Wil McCarthy, offering a peek at something so potentially transforming, our grandchildren may build civilizations around it.  If even a few of these possibilities come true, you'll always remember you heard it here first." -- David Brin, author of The Transparent Society

"Programmable substances and futuristic computers will revolutionize our lives and allow us to soar beyond the limits of our intuition.  No book better describes the impact of hypercomputing and the dazzling wealth of new materils coming our way than Hacking Matter." -- Clifford A. Pickover, author of The Mathematics of Oz

"A grand tour of cutting-edge research: alchemy, 21st century style.  The author makes an informative case for the promising, even magical, potential of programmable atoms." -- Publishers Weekly

"McCarthy effectively conveys the inherent gee-whiz character of his subject. A fascinating glimpse of research that may in a few years find its way into our everyday lives." --Kirkus Reviews

"[T]he book's science is solid and McCarthy's fervor genuinely infectious. The future never felt so close." -- Jennifer Kahn, WIRED

"McCarthy blends lucid nuts-and-bolts explanations of 'quantum dots' and other developing technologies with healthy doses of 'You ain't seen nothin' yet' descriptions of speculative applications. A fascinating book for any reader intrigued by new technologies." -- Barnes and Noble

"Promises to create a thunderclap of change.  McCarthy takes a fantastical concept, coolly explaining it in a plausible way, and helps even the most science-deficient reader to understand how 'hacking matter' works, and what it means for all of us." -- Dallas Morning News

"Through the works of aerospace-engineer-turned-science-fiction-author Wil McCarthy... the promise of programmable matter could make the technology revolution wrought by semiconductors to date look like a warm-up for the main act. " -- Stephen Cass, IEEE Spectrum

"An excellent guide to some cutting-edge science.  McCarthy has now joined the league of major writers like Asimov and Clarke who are comfortable writing both science fiction and science fact." -- Fred Cleaver, The Denver Post

"The particular bridging status of [Hacking Matter] becomes clear by a closer look at the exceptional author and his remarkable book. " -- Joachim Schummer: Public Interest in Nanotechnology as Reflected in Purchase Patterns of Books, Public Understanding of Science, 14 (2), 2005

"Veteran science fiction writer Wil McCarthy explores a frontier of real-world possibilities that could make all previous technological revolutions look like artifacts from the stone age.  He has a knack for expounding hard science in layman's terms, [and] speculates enthusiasically on the potential benefits. " -- David Colterjohn, San Francisco Chronicle

"McCarthy employs a soothing narrative manner that draws reads into the story; even when the science gets tough to digest,
there's enough freewheeling speculation to keep you going.  Throughout, McCarthy describes the phenomenon of programmable matter as a
kind of magic. His knack for describing it is magical in itself." -- Booklist

"Excellent. there's a sense that he's onto something really important -- the kind of thing that scientists and science fiction writers will be exploring for decades to come." -- Cory Doctorow,

 Return to Wil McCarthy's fact page, or Old Time Science Bar.

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