It’s always interesting to see how long it takes the world to catch up with Neal Stephenson. Maybe that’s why he’s been writing about the past – to give us time.
It’s because of these admittedly unglamorous properties that lab-produced diamonds have the potential to dramatically change technology, perhaps becoming as significant as steel or silicon in electronics and computing. The stones are already being used in loudspeakers (their stiffness makes for an excellent tweeter), cosmetic skin exfoliants (tiny diamond grains act as very sharp scalpels) and in high-end cutting tools for granite and marble (a diamond can cut any other substance). With a cheap, ready supply of diamonds, engineers hope to make everything from higher-powered lasers to more durable power grids. They foresee razor-thin computers, wristwatch-size cellphones and digital recording devices that would let you hold thousands of movies in the palm of your hand. “People associate the word diamond with something singular, a stone or a gem,” says Jim Davidson, an electrical engineering professor at Vanderbilt University in Tennessee. “But the real utility is going to be the fact that you can deposit diamond as a layer, making possible mass production and having implications for every technology in electronics.”