In my book Santa, Godzilla & Jesus Walk Into A Bar (a/k/a The Greatest Xmas Story Ever Told), ($3.99 Amazon) my villain used a "Santa Claus Machine" to try to take over the world. A "Santa Claus Machine" is a machine that can take any material and turn it into anything else. The phrase was coined by Theodore Taylor in 1978, according to Wikipedia. (This seems like the kind of thing Wikipedia is good for.)
I had been thinking about Santa Claus machines at the time because of a podcast on them, one in which two "scientists" talking about the possibility of such machines said they would be the "end of design," that having machines which could make anything out of anything would destroy creativity. I was amazed at such a lack of awareness and creativity on the part of the "scientists" themselves, and in the author's note to my book I pointed out that freeing up the tools for creativity has never resulted in less creation or variety. Computers in particular have freed up the tools for drawing, music, writing, and filmmaking, and the results have been an explosion of webcomics, indie novels, new bands, and other creativity.
Instead, what I said would happen was that as these machines (which are essentially 3D printers) became more common, you would see people having different-sized machines: most households would have one for everyday use, making things like socks or dinner, while specialized ones would be large enough to build cars or houses, with the creativity coming in people's apps -- programmers would create specialized programs to make the most awesome shoes or whatever.
What I posited has now started to come true. This was on Gawker yesterday:
In this edition of The Future, a private firm in China called WinSun has used its technology to build huge 3D printers that in turn print even huger fully-functioning houses. Their printers can manufacturer 10 in a day. Let's assess._________________________________________________________________
The WinSun printers are 32 feet by 21 feet, and four of them are needed in constructing one house. The company uses the printers by spraying "a mixture of cement and construction waste to build the walls, layer by layer."
Each house costs under $5,000 to build because of its recycled materials and lack of labor. Chinese construction regulations don't allow 3D printing of multi-story houses yet, but let me repeat that, yet.
They seem kind of livable, if not pretty ugly.
Sometimes -- as when Neil DeGrasse Tyson talks about Felix's jump from space -- scientists forget just how awesome science is. That's why we need people like us: we may not know how to build a Santa Claus machine, but we know having one would be great.
PS Did I mention that one of the characters in that book is called Sexy Cop, and that another character is Other Sexy Cop? That's literature! Take that, Tolstoy! If you don't want to read a Xmas story in April, check out my writing on lit, a place for stories.