To complement the excellent write-up above this one, here are two fairly recent literary
mentions of the Santa Machine
. This machine is a fairly common idea in current science fiction
, now nanotechnology
has become a household feature in SF
. As described above, the Santa Machine
is a general assembler, capable of producing almost anything if it is fed the necessary raw atoms.
1. Peter F Hamilton, Night's Dawn trilogy (comprised of The Reality Dysfunction, The Neutronium Alchemist and The Naked God). In the final installment, one of the alien races demonstrates what they call a Provider. It almost literally becomes a Santa Machine for the little girl who uses it, producing ice cream, toys and candy for her at will.
2. The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson. In this excellent novel the Santa Machine is called M.C. or Matter Compiler. Raw atoms are filtered out of air and sea by giant Feeds. Every house has an M.C. which can provide everything from furniture to food. Press a button and the requisite materials are sent to the M.C., which compiles it for the user - at a price.
Additional food for thought: in "The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction", it is mentioned that such a machine could replicate itself. Two questions that are raised by this point: 1. Could they be considered a life-form? and 2. Could they get out of control? (if a single Assembler took 15 minutes to double, then after 10 hours of doubling we would potentially have 68 billion of them)