The Virus that Saves the World
I wasn’t planning on writing a post today, but I seem to be reaching my limit for useful novel-editing time a bit early today, and I don’t want to leave the computer just yet, so I’m going to bring to your attention what could, maybe, possibly, be the most important thing ever.
Viruses that Create Electricity
Read the article. Read it, damn you.
Now, the article interprets the practical application of these little bugs in computer screens and iPads and whatnot. This is pretty typical of the technological culture we’ve been living in for much of the last two decades – we discover a potential new source of energy, and the first thing we think of is a way we can harness it to play Angry Birds or listen to Devo. They toss off the line ‘you could use it to power your house by jumping up and down.’ Think about that for a second, though. You could power your house by jumping up and down!
A self-powered house! No power lines. No generators. All you need are special floors and something to compress them. You have those things already – they are called feet. You might not even need to jump up and down; you just walk around, and boom, electric power! HOLY CRAPBALLS! And what happens when the viruses die or run out of power or whatever (which is bound to happen), where can we get more? Oh, that’s right, they’re viruses! They specialize in reproducing! It’s all they freaking do!
Have you started to see how unbelievably revolutionary this might be? Whole cities could be powered by just layering portions of the sidewalk with these critters underneath touchplates. Your car could run on a layer of bugs built into the tires – you only ever refuel when you get new tires! Capacitors could be built all over the place, storing up any excess energy the little buggers produce as a result of millions of feet walking around on them all day and, therefore, power the world all night long. This technology could result in the whole world, essentially, being hooked up to a worldwide hamster-wheel of electric power, endless so long as we can keep those viruses alive and cooking. This is incredible. This is beyond revolutionary, if it proves to be practical. Right now, one square centimeter is equal to .25 AAA batteries. This seems to indicate 4 cm^2 would be 1 AAA battery. A square meter, then, 25 AAA batteries. You can run a lot of stuff off that. Keep engineering the buggers, and you might get more. Set up a system by which the used-up ones can be replaced with fresh viruses, and you could keep this going for a long, long time.
Obviously there’s a lot of practical improvements to be made, and we probably will see this begin in small ways–like a touch screen or something – but this invention has enormous potential for the science fictional worlds we will continue to imagine. I know I’m building one right now. I also know I’m not alone.
Posted on May 17, 2012, in Critiques, Theories, and Random Thoughts and tagged biotechnology, electricity, io9, scifi, technology, virus. Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.
This is pretty freaking amazing.
And will give rise to more bio-engineering horror stories, naturally.
Hmm…does this mean there could finally be a science-based zombie virus that would meet your criteria? (going on the notion that this somehow could make a few evolutionary jumps, obviously, but the basic idea)
Nope. The people would still have to be alive and, therefore, no zombies. Even if you had a virus that generated electric current to fire dead muscles, there would be no intelligence to coordinate the firing of said muscles. A ‘zombie plague’ based off of this kind of bioengineering would result in twitchy corpses, not the walking dead.
I suppose you could manufacture a dead body with a simple computer designed to organize the firing of those viruses in order to achieve simulated locomotion, but that would be more like a robot than a zombie, and not a very good one, either. It couldn’t make more zombies, either, without the help of some kind of brain surgery or really, really advanced nanotechnology and, by that point, you are really getting into ‘why bother’ territory.
Believe me, the sci-fi zombie plague *aggressively* refuses to make any damned sense.
The big question will be how expensive it will be to create these viruses and store them / put them in things to generate electricity… and how will the fossil fuel industry find a way to make sure they never get out there? After all… we’ve had solar panels for decades now, and we barely have anything hooked up to them. The fact that that technology seems to have never progressed beyond those ugly black panels which nobody wants on their roofs or on their cars, tells me that a new power source won’t exactly be embraced by the world so easily.
I forget if you responded to this before, but, your thoughts, Auston, on the fungus that makes “zombie ants”, Ophiocordyceps unilaterali? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ophiocordyceps_unilateralis)
And no, I don’t think the embracing new tech would be easy. But the simpler and less intrusive it is, the easier said embracing will be. Installing solar panels is still fairly intrusive and complicated, even though it would make much more sense to do it.
The term ‘zombie ants’ is misleading, in that it makes people believe that the ants are dead (which they aren’t until they finally clamp themselves to the spot they’re going to sprout) and that they, somehow, go around eating other ant-brains, which they don’t. They catch a parasite, they help the parasite reproduce, then they die.
Transpose to humanity: Problem the first is that you need a fungus that can get into the human brain. Good luck with that. Problem the second is that your new zombie human is very obviously no longer in their right mind and, furthermore, devoid of the usual survival mechanisms we humans use to navigate society (refer to my anti-zombie manifesto for the upside of all this), making them pretty freaking stupid and not all that dangerous. Problem the third is that fungus zombie dies like everybody else; in fact, it is in the process of dying and will die shortly. Not only can the fungus zombies be killed, the liklihood of this fungus managing to wipe out the world is pretty slim. It could definitely become a major health problem and might kill lots of people, but it hasn’t the capacity to topple society because, unlike ants, we are a problem-solving species.
Then, of course, is the simple fact that, very likely, a simple regimen of anti-fungal meds could kill the fungus long before zombie person dies or even manages to spore (which is when it would become ‘contagious’).
Granted, you could end up with zombie-like people, but it would in no way resemble the zombie franchises that have infested popular culture.