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Programmable matter refers to matter which has the ability to change its physical properties (shape, density, moduli, optical properties, etc.) in a programmable fashion, based upon user input or autonomous sensing. Programmable matter is thus linked to the concept of a material which inherently has the ability to perform information processing.
"Claytronics" is an emerging field of engineering concerning reconfigurable nanoscale robots ('claytronic atoms', or catoms) designed to form much larger scale machines or mechanisms.
This particular technology, though, is far from being an illusion--Intel's scientists and engineers, who have been laboring in exploratory research, have come up with early prototypes at the centimeter and millimeter scale, according to Rattner, who is also senior fellow and vice president of the corporate technology group at Intel. "And we'll go from millimeters to microns, I guess, some time over the next five to 10 years."