Assume we have a Dyson Sphere, ready to rumble.

Also Assume that knowledge bearing robots are plentiful as well (apart from energy) who can do any task (from 3d printing a laptop to creating a house to creating a car etc)

Now, can a person live off solely energy? (since elements can be converted to a metal of choice via energy).

You need iron, convert sand to iron. You need food, grow it via organic farming or create it in a lab. You need fuel, use solar powered car (also made via energy). You need fans/air conditioning/books you use energy to create them (along with the rudimentary materials).

For mental satisfaction, create virtual reality systems (as one of Molborg pointed out) or create androids (as romantic companions).

So, can excess energy essentially create a potential utopia? (assuming the individual greed/racism/communalism etc don't isolate a section of humanity from the benefits of the tech/energy)?

  • 4
    $\begingroup$ Depends what you mean by utopia. Material plenty for all (see post scarcity) is just about material needs, it sais nothing about the politics, culture, social organization, psychology, individual happiness of the citizens. It's sort of unclear what you're asking because it misses out so much context and of course a description of what your utopia might look like. Can you edit to clarify. $\endgroup$ Sep 9 at 17:03
  • $\begingroup$ Isn't that exactly the way Earth's biosphere works? Energy from the sun recycles stuff like food, air, and water. Other stuff (like metals) gets recycled when that's cheaper than digging up ores. $\endgroup$
    – jamesqf
    Sep 9 at 17:09
  • $\begingroup$ yep, just do not forget to <strike>kill</strike> put in virtual reality system those who are not happy enough, lol. energy matter conversion is not easy and happiness is not in consumption but in the mind, lol. So which of those two questions are you actually asking - can they live using energy or will they be happy? $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Sep 9 at 17:10
  • $\begingroup$ If the question is "can energy alone satisfy person needs" - then the answer is "No" (unless we are talking about Prana). If the question is "can energy ultimately satisfy all recycling needs" - then the answer can be "Yes". $\endgroup$
    – Alexander
    Sep 9 at 18:33
  • $\begingroup$ Am I the only one who found the title confusing/misleading? From the title I expected something along the lines of the old sci-fi trope about a species "beyond the consumption of crude matter". I can edit the title to make is clearer (to me) but if I'm the only one being confused, maybe it's just me? $\endgroup$
    – legio1
    Sep 10 at 14:26

Dyson Sphere, hm, no if your prerequisite is energy to matter conversion.

It may depend on how much matter they need to satisfy their needs, how many of them there are, and all that.

But using 100% of sun energy, in a 100% efficient way - they can make 4 million tons of matter per second. Or about 1.2e14 tons per year.

This is a significant number, as mass goes, and the important question is how much do they need for their happiness. If it is enough for them, like there is a trillion of them - maybe it is enough for them if they live a modest life, about 100t per year per person.

But using the same energy to redistribute the already existing mass of rocky planets and gas giants - seems like a more efficient way to use that energy.

  • $\begingroup$ Good answer. I too believe that interplanetary mining is far cheaper than converting energy to mass or converting one form of mass to another. $\endgroup$
    – Abhay123
    Sep 16 at 5:14

Now, can a person live off solely energy? (since elements can be converted to a metal of choice via energy).

Trivially, yes. You can synthesise all the materials you need, so ultimately you can support life as you see fit.

As MolbOrg pointed out though, the total amount of matter available from a sunlike star if you're merely converting its electromagnetic radiation to matter is actually kinda small, when you're talking about a civilization capable of constructing a dyson sphere.

(FWIW, their estimate of ~4MT/s doesn't account for the pesky conservation of baryon number, so it'll be more like 2MT/s, but the shortfall can be made up by the solar wind which would contribute another 1-2MT/s that you could catch in your dyson sphere)

A better approach might be Star Lifting, where you use various tricks to harness the energy produced by a star to pull matter up out of its gravity well to use as you see fit. The linked article suggests that using 10% of the sun's energy could let you lift up ~6 x 1018 tonnes of matter in a year... that's 10000 times more than you get from your mass conversion alone, and you still have that 90% of the solar output to play with as you see fit.

That huge amount of matter still only accounts for a miniscule portion of the sun's mass, so you could carry on doing it for millions of years before having lifted up a single percentage of the original mass.

So, can excess energy essentially create a utopia?

Sure. But it'd make more sense to use all that excess mass, too. There's a lot of it in the universe, just lying around for the taking.

  • $\begingroup$ To not say that I didn't knew about it(I didn't), I'll say didn't think about it for purposes of this magical q, and usually energy matter converters I think of are black holes, as good mincers of everything(maybe, now I get better why there are questions), and it turns out I was lucky to dodge this bullet by "The conservation of baryon number is not consistent with the physics of black hole evaporation via Hawking radiation." /wiki/Baryon_number but anyway it was fun read, you pointed interesting and not that often seen/mentiont thing. Yeah, lets wait for GUT to tell us how things really are $\endgroup$
    – MolbOrg
    Sep 10 at 12:24
  • 1
    $\begingroup$ @MolbOrg there are other potential ways of doing it using intense gamma ray pulses, but the details are kinda irrelevant. Also, the detail didn't really seem relevant to your post, which already seems to adequately answer the OP's question, so you got the +1 and I left my nitpicking here ;-) $\endgroup$ Sep 10 at 12:27
  • $\begingroup$ Removing mass from a star also paradoxically extends its life expectancy and as long as you stay above red dwarf masses, should also make it more stable. $\endgroup$
    – Oxy
    Sep 10 at 12:44

Unlimited Energy Doesn't Necessarily Mean Utopia

From a theoretical standpoint, yes, you can take in sunlight and Hydrogen from the solar wind and combine the two into everything society needs.

From a practical standpoint...

Turning Hydrogen into Iron is going to require repeatedly fusing elements, then running the results through a separation process, since you will get some other, non-target elements out of each step.

The largest, most advanced fusion project humanity has ever attempted has cost tens of billions, takes up significant physical space, and resulted in approximately zero fusion to date. So I think it's unlikely that we will ever build a society where everyone has their own personal fusion setup.

Control Enables Corruption

If everyone needs to go to a "fusion provider" to transform their Hydrogen into whatever else they need, then the fusion provider is in a position of power. They can deny or delay access, which is a potential source of conflict. There are lots of potential solutions to this access process, ranging from near-utopia to tyrannical dictatorship.

Generally, having many different, independent, fusion providers is likely to produce a better society - each provider has less power, and therefore less ability to control others. If you want something more dystopic, consolidate the fusion providers.

Secondary Avenues of Power

If people in the Dyson Cloud need to collect masses of Hydrogen, and physically move them to the fusion provider, then the people who do those activities also potentially have power over other people in society. There are bound to be choke points on the approach to the fusion providers, and to the best places to collect mass. The people who "own" (or can threaten) those approaches can charge tolls.

Likewise, people will need designs and recipes to build what they need. This will require knowledge, which could be shared freely or could be controlled with Intellectual Property restrictions.

Human nature being what it is, I doubt Utopia is possible. It is certainly not inevitable just by providing unlimited energy.

  • $\begingroup$ Great points, i believe human greed can turn utopia into hell too. Of course, conversion of elements into one another is not possible as of now, but assuming we can build dyson spheres, wouldn't it be feasible then? $\endgroup$
    – Abhay123
    Sep 16 at 5:16
  • $\begingroup$ @Abhay123 - it's possible to do elemental conversion today, it's just not economical. You can bombard something with a neutron source or run it through a particle collider to produce any element you want. It's just generally way cheaper to dig it up instead. Since various elements are "waste" products of fusion, and fusion provides a lot of energy to run particle colliders, yes fusion would make this kind of conversion significantly cheaper. $\endgroup$
    – codeMonkey
    Oct 4 at 14:10
  • $\begingroup$ Curious about the downvote? $\endgroup$
    – codeMonkey
    Oct 5 at 14:45

No, not at all. About 20% of the economy of an advanced country is the kind of thing that you might make with unlimited energy — food and manufactured goods. The rest is services. Energy can’t write a novel or make a movie or cut your hair or give you nursing care or advise you on how to lay out your garden or get you front-row seats at a concert.

  • $\begingroup$ Good point, but what if you can harness the brain's electrical signals through some device and do permutations/combinations based on precoded algorithms? That might produce the "imaginative" part mechanically? $\endgroup$
    – Abhay123
    Sep 16 at 5:24
  • $\begingroup$ @Abhay123 Any artificial intelligence that’s good enough to do human-level creative tasks is effectively human, and if you make it work for you without pay then that’s slavery. $\endgroup$
    – Mike Scott
    Sep 16 at 5:38

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