In our earlier discussions on the Solaria phase, we’ve suggested that the remarkable nanotechnology-based self-constructing composite material called NanoFoam -or some combination of technologies functioning effectively like this- would potentially become the basis of much of the future civilization. The basic material most everything is made out of -or rather makes itself out of. Not only will this material produce most of the artifacts we use, it will form the basis of the infrastructure of our habitat, giving it a powerful ability to self-construct, self-repair, and self-adapt while radically changing the relationship of the built habitat to us and to the larger environment. On Earth and the natural bodies of the solar system we have devised a name for this self-creating infrastructure; the RhiZome.
The term RhiZome originates with the botany term ‘rhizome’; the horizontal root complex of plants that spreads out just beneath the soil surface to gather nutrients from the soil and is host to a complex biome of microorganisms. And this is essentially how the artificial RhiZome would work, at a much larger scale, permeating vast subterranean areas with a network of root-like structures, larger pipes and tunnels, and various nodal chambers that host all the basic infrastructure systems needed to support a habitat. It would contain water transport, storage, and purification, waste processing, fluid networks for storing and distributing molecular materials in the form of NanoSoup (a fluid hydrocarbon medium that conveys materials and nanomachine components in molecular packaging), electric power network, fiber optic and wireless telecommunications network, distributed computing resources in the form of processing and data storage nodes, an environmental monitoring sensor web, and high speed goods and human transportation in the form of mag-lev Personal Rapid Transit networks. On land it might deploy tree-like solar arrays and carbon/pollution absorbers. In the sea it might deploy seawater mineral/pollution extraction arrays looking like sea fans and sponges. Deep roots would exploit geothermal energy. Irrigation roots would disperse through parks, gardens, and farms, merging with their living rhizomes to serve as hydroponic feeder systems helping struggling plants tolerate harsh environments. The RhiZome could become a supplementary life support network for the global environment.
The origin of the RhiZome may be in two key technological advances emerging from nanotechnology; nano-excavation and nano-mining. We tend to imagine most of the impact of nanotechnology being in the way artifacts as made. But one of the more subtle yet powerful impacts of the technology may be in the simple ability to automate large scale excavation. Nano-excavation would be based on using assemblers in a fluid medium to carve out tunnels in the earth while simultaneously using a portion of the removed material to make a strong diamondoid tunnel wall structure. Starting a tunnel project of any scale could thus be as simple as inserting a series of probes into the ground to create signals for the tunneling system to follow, to inject the initial assembler colonies and their fluid medium, and to provide a data interface. The system would project a network of root-like sensor microchannels to define the path of the intended tunnel and gather information about the strata they are in and then expand them into the desired volumetric tunnel form, build the tunnel walls, and hollow the space out with the unused removed material reduced to molecular components and carried away in the assembler’s recycled fluid medium. This would not be a remarkably fast process, of course, but would be potentially exponential in the increase in pace of processing as the regions of processing increase in area -very much after the example of organismic processes.
This seemingly simple ability to make, with little human intervention, tunnels and excavations of any size, length, or shape with extremely strong monolithic wall structures would radically alter much of our civilization. We would be able to create, repair, and change water and waste tunnels and underground power and telecommunications lines with incredible ease and economy. And it would become easier to make roadways and rail lines underground than it is to build them on the surface, giving us very fast, automated, all-season, door-to-door transportation with living-room comfort. Geothermal energy systems would also become radically easier to create and maintain and could become solid-state and entirely self-contained underground, relying on magnetohydrodynamic cycles using ferro-fluids rather than Rankin cycle systems using complex turbines and heat exchangers. We would also be able to repair some of the impact of our long legacy of mis-use of water table resources and moderate some of the disruptions to water tables caused by surface construction. But another powerful consequence of this technology would come in how we exploit natural resources through the use of this same excavation technology for mining.
Nano-mining would work in much the same way as nano-excavation. One simply inserts probes into the ground that inject assembler colonies and plug them into a series of fluid links that recycle the fluid processing medium the assemblers operate in. Working out from the injection point, assemblers would create microscopic sensor roots following fractal program patterns, gathering information about the strata they are in and the distribution of various desired materials. Capillaries would then extend out where concentrations of desired material is high so the assemblers could collect them and leave in their place the unwanted material and well as a diamond filler made from carbon -providing a way to sequester some of the waste carbon in our atmosphere while at the same time shoring-up the strata to prevent subsidence. With this technique vast areas could be mined without human intervention and without any surface disruption or pollution. In fact, the same nano-mining technique may come to be used for pollution abatement, allowing toxics to be mined out of polluted sites for processing into inert compounds.
Combine the powers of nano-excavation and nano-mining with the use of NanoFoam and you give NanoFoam the ability to create complex resource gathering, distribution, and recycling systems. You would have a system that can sense available resources, sense the state of the environment, gather and store materials in bulk molecular form, transport and distribute them anywhere in a fluid medium, and sequester wastes all without any pollution or disruption of the natural surface landscape and its biomes and all without any human labor. It could also gather and distribute energy, create communications links, and all the other infrastructure systems. And, of course, it would use the materials it gathers in its own self-generation and recycling of artifacts and structures for us to use. It would also add its integral digital intelligence to the complex, using sensor webs to assess the effect it has on the natural environment, and, with careful programing learn how to achieve a state of sustainability and caution us -with very concrete information- about out own impact. Thus we arrive at this basis of an entire infrastructure for civilization we call the RhiZome.
On Earth a global RhiZome would form the foundation of the built habitat, our surface structures all connected to -if not growing out of since it too would be NanoFoam based- this subterranean infrastructure. We call this combination of a RhiZome with a built habitat for human habitation a BioZome -a RhiZome that hosts organic life. It’s sensor web would span the whole terrestrial environment like a Gaian nervous system, giving it a global environmental and resource awareness and allowing human civilization to evolve to a state of symbiosis with our natural environment. Gaia would become a cyborg and, for the first time, actively aware of herself.
RhiZome’s would also be used in space and serve as the primary tool of automated pre-colonization of natural bodies in the solar system. Any spacecraft made of NanoFoam could land on any body in the solar system -planet, moon, asteroid, or comet- and plant itself like seed into the surface. It would then grow into a RhiZome, permeating the strata in search of materials and energy in the form of latent geothermal heat or potential nuclear materials. It would also grow telecommunications arrays to let it keep in touch with the rest of civilization and, if need be, sprout forests of plant-like solar arrays and ‘fleets’ or ‘swarms’ of free-roaming robots to expand its pace of growth by seeding more locations and seeking out particular materials concentrations. Being mostly underground and with much of its physical structure made of diamondoids, these Rhizomes could potentially colonize quite hostile environments.
Such colonial RhiZomes would be ideal habitats as-is for colonies of artilects living in a Virtual Habitat hosted by digital processing nodes distributed in the RhiZome complex. Vast artilect colonies could be created in this way, turning these orbital bodies whole into vast computers, and yet they might be largely invisible save for their communications systems, solar arrays, and the few tunnel entrances at the surface. If artilect culture should diverge and surpass organic human culture such habitats could become the dominant form of surface settlement in the future.
Generally, though, RhiZomes would be used as the foundation for BioZomes that would, in addition to some artilect population, host colonies of organic human settlers and recreated or analogous terrestrial biomes. When initially colonizing a location, they would create, on or near the surface, modest sized habitats of generic design -unless programmed to produce very specific designs for individual settlers ahead of time. These would be largely similar to excavated and domed habitats of the Avalon phase, though employing a NanoFoam structure throughout and using it to form their internal features rather than employing retrofit construction. As settlers arrive, these would be incrementally customized and expanded to suit them and, depending on the environment, would diverge into a variety of forms. Unlike habitats of the previous phases of development where constraints of the hostile space environment and demands for absolute efficiency dominated the architectural design, Solarian habitats would have the freedom -thanks to the very high performance of diamondoid materials- to diverge into a great diversity of forms. We will discuss these in more detail in the article on BioZomes.
- Life In Solaria
- Solar Snowflake - Sunflower - Sundisc - Solar Ribbon
- Dyson Sphere
- Solarian Spacecraft
- Solaria Supporting Technologies