Imagine an (ultra) high-tech civilization that has access to, say 1031 bits of unique usable data (Type Z on Sagan's "Information Mastery" scale), and is capable of harnessing and utilizing the energy equivalent to the total annual energy output of our sun, 1026 watts/year (Type 2 Kardishev scale). Go ahead and try.

Now imagine their society's basic infrastructure was picometer (atomic) scale "utility fog", capable of manipulating the atomic nucleus and engineering the nucleons that compose it- allowing not only precision arrangement of atoms but even arrangement of their internal states, leading to enhanced control over natural chemical reactions, and to the creation of entirely novel atoms and molecules. Give that a shot.

Ok, that kind of pico-scale activity, applied over, say, the entire volume of Earth's atmosphere would require a lot of energy. Way more than theorized nanobots that move molecules around. So here's my question:

What's their energy source? Would it have to be a Dyson sphere? Do we have to go there? Stretch your imagination and knowledge of theoretical/speculative physics. Is Fusion power possible at that scale? Casimir effect and Zero point energy? Do you think each picomachine would be its own power plant? Would basic mechanical energy have any meaning or functionality at that scale, or even provide nearly enough? What about waste energy? Would be bad if that utility fog had to shed heat.

  • $\begingroup$ Hello Bryan. Welcome to the site! Don't forget to check out the help center. Could you pare down the questions at the end to one single question that can have a 'best answer'? $\endgroup$
    – Trioxidane
    Jul 20, 2022 at 7:17
  • $\begingroup$ OK, but seriously. (a) Stack Exchange is not a discussion forum. (b) You appear to be asking for a deterministic answer to an indeterminate question... that's a bit unreasonable. (c) You are allowed to ask one and only one question (I count eight question marks). Consequently, I don't know what you're really asking since any technobabble solution will solve your problem. (I.E., my picobot fog is powered by fill in a useful string of words here.) Which brings me to (d) You're not allowed to ask questions were every answer is equally valid (because there's no "right" answer). $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Jul 20, 2022 at 9:51
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ Just a side note: 102^6 watts/year is not a thing. Watt is joule per second. You can drop the "/year". $\endgroup$
    – Avun Jahei
    Jul 20, 2022 at 9:57
  • 2
    $\begingroup$ If the pico-bots are part of a utility fog rather than being self propelled bots, they will be linked with their arms so energy is passed along the chain. That is the general idea for utility fog. The original source for the power could be any sci-fi cool or realistic method of your choice. $\endgroup$
    – user96146
    Jul 20, 2022 at 10:31

1 Answer 1


You're actually asking three quite separate questions there... 1. where does the energy come from? (eg. do they need a dyson sphere?), 2. how does the energy get into your picotech... things? devices? mechanisms? (John Meaney called his femtotech "engineered psuedatoms" in his Nulapeiron books, what are you calling yours?) and 3. how do your devices use that stored energy to interact with the world?

I'm going to ignore (1), because it is less interesting than the other question and as it isn't at all clear how much energy your technosphere needs it isn't really something that I can usefully answer.

(2) is slightly more interesting.

Devices of that scale can store energy in the form of metastable states called nuclear isomers. They're mostly associated with radioactivity, and the interesting possibility of induced gamma emission which could be used to make a super-high energy density battery or a powerful (but non-fission/fusion) explosive. If you can rejiggle internal atomic states at will, working with nuclear isomers would be child's play. Each individual picotech device would be "charged up", undergoing isomeric transition into a long-lived metastable state, with the energy released at some point in the future to enable some kind of atomic-scale action, whatever that might be.

Charging such a device is awkward, because it require interacting with the nucleus of your custom atoms. This basically requires either bouncing particles off the nucleus, or bombarding it with suitably short wavelength gamma rays. This is something that you might do inside a nuclear reactor rather than something you'd do to devices floating around in your atmosphere.

And that kinda segues into (3). I posit that you don't really want to be using pico-scale devices for everyday tasks, because everyday tasks don't generally require very much nuclear chemistry, and things that do involve nuclear chemistry tend to be hazardous to be around and you don't want them wafting around your atmosphere or sea. You use this technology for making exotic bulk materials, or very specialist nuclear manipulation tricks, but for everything else it is either too powerful and dangerous (like using a railgun to crack a walnut) or simply not large scale enough.

Most things you care about are probably made of quite large molecules. This probably includes your good self. Molecular-scale interactions are demonstrably useful. Moreover, molecular scale systems already demonstrate useful ways to absorb and release energy without recourse to nuclear reactions... consider stuff like chlorophyll that operates on regular light, which is generally quite safe. Other structures could absorb or emit other wavelengths, allowing for radio control, communication and power transmission. Everything is easier at that scale, and things are generally a lot more useful, too. Sure, your nanosystems might be made of materials created by nuclear engineering, but it is the nanometer-scale chemical properties of those materials that matter most.

Honestly though, I'd conserve your details here as much as possible. Clarke's third law definitely applies. You aren't a godlike superintelligence, and you don't find many of them contributing to stack exchange. Anything anyone can imagine for the functioning of picotech is probably wrong, and has a good chance of being badly wrong.

If you don't go into detail, you can't be wrong. Use handwaves to convey mystery. If your godlike superintelligences aren't mysterious and incomprehensible to some degree, you might be doing it wrong.


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