"Make sure the replicators provide every person with a blanket and food before nightfall."Matter operates under certain rules that say that things (barring certain radioactive elements) don't spontaneously transform from one thing to another. If you've ever worried about spontaneously transforming into a giant pile of cherry ice cream while sitting at your keyboard, relax: the odds of such an event happening are vanishingly slim, as are the odds of your keyboard transforming into a nest of live pythons, or the ceiling over your head turning into cheddar cheese and falling on you. Those of us who like to sleep at night find security in those rules. Those of us who want to build things faster find them a nuisance. Turning an ore-rich mountainside into next year's model of automobile or a tree farm into enough copies of Time magazine to fill everyone's subscriptions takes a lot of time and energy; wouldn't it be better if you could just take a big pile of stuff, break it down into the very building blocks of matter and reconstruct it into all those wonderful big complex things? Works of Speculative Fiction like to take that "if" and make it a reality. Enter the Matter Replicator, a form of Applied Phlebotinum that gleefully ignores the laws of thermodynamics as it rearranges and reassembles matter at the nuclear level to do everything from fixing a radio to fixing a nice cup of Earl Grey. Note that the name "Matter Replicator" is itself somewhat misleading; it's rare to find one that can actually make something out of nothing (that one law of thermodynamics that usually can't be broken without breaking Willing Suspension of Disbelief as well). A Matter Replicator can use pre-existing matter to replicate something else, or perhaps use it to transmute something into entirely new. Creations made of Hard Light need not apply here, but Nanomachines often do. For the ancient or magical equivalent, see Alchemy.
— Captain Jean Luc Picard, Star Trek: The Next Generation.
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Anime & Manga
- Fullmetal Alchemist, Alchemists are basically walking matter replicators, limited only by that pesky Newtonian law. While most Alchemists specialize in a particular kind of transformation, it's implied that with the right knowledge and transmutation circle, an Alchemist can do practically anything...except, of course, resurrect the dead, create an Artificial Human or do anything related to souls. Seriously, it's a bad idea to even try it.
- The Philosopher Stone is the ultimate alchemy tool, as it can do everything above perfectly without the Equivalent Exchange rule. The only problem is making the damn thing, which requires an entire war's worth of human sacrifice.
- Bokurano explores this trope quite a bit, due to the giant robots regenerating and the teleporting. Dungbeetle explains that all matter is made up of building blocks with four switches, which he can alter at will, making different things. Conservation of mass still applies, however, and Dungbeetle never creates anything out of thin air, stating that the energy difference would be too great. He uses it to teleport things instead. Also, this also presents empirical evidence for the human soul, since you cannot resurrect humans with this technology even if you have their data. You'd only get a corpse.
- Naru Taru has mons with the ability to replicate anything they see. Whether this is unlimited is questioned, but it is never explored in-depth.
- Transmetropolitan has these in the form of makers, which all seem to come with an AI and require large blocks of non-radioactive material as a base. Spider's mafia-made one spends most of it's time producing drugs. For itself.
- Tintin and the Lake of Sharks features a semi-functional duplicator developed by Professor Calculus, and Hilarity Ensues when Rastapopoulos steals it and attempts to use it for his own ends.
- Using the Star Trek: The Next Generation Technical Manual as a reference, Bait and Switch (STO) has a mention that one of the supplies the USS Bajor takes on when she docks at Deep Space 9 is "replicator mass" (because replicating stuff from pure energy would require frankly ludicrous amounts of power).
- The Prestige, Tesla's attempt to create a teleporter creates one of these instead; there is no explanation given for where the matter it uses to create its duplicates comes from, but in a rare event, the device is capable of copying an entire human being perfectly.
- Forbidden Planet, Robbie the Robot has a replicator built in to his body, able to reproduce anything he's given a sample of. One of the crew quickly takes advantage of this and turns him into the world's fastest distillery.
- Richie Rich has Professor Keenbean's Sub-Atomic Molecular Re-Organizer, an early prototype replicator in the form of a massive, complex, loud machine which rearranges the molecules of garbage and turns it into useful everyday items, such as bedpans or bowling balls. Unfortunately, it can do the same thing to human beings, something the villains catch onto...
- The Neo-Korean, McDonald's-like Papa Song's is shown rapidly 3D-printing food from sophisticated spray nozzles in the 2144-set part of Cloud Atlas.
- Robert A. Heinlein's Future History timeline included a "Universal Pantograph" which could duplicate objects. It's mentioned in Time Enough for Love.
- Damon Knight's A For Anything (1959) had a rather primitive-looking "Gizmo" that could duplicate anything, including itself. No source of energy was mentioned, only that the Gizmo could only do one item at a time, including living people. This destroyed Earth civilization overnight, leading to a feudal slave-owner future where only human labor was valuable.
- Vorkosigan Saga, there are replicators for organic material called "protein vats", but it's implied that traditional manufacturing is easier for metals.
- William Gibson's All Tomorrows Parties has the Nanofax machine, which transmits copies of anything.
- Wil Mc Carthy's The Queendom Of Sol series, fax machines can print copies of almost any object, as long as enough raw materials are on hand. These devices are a relatively rare example in that they can also print copies of people — potentially multiple copies, which factors into the setting's society and laws. Combined with a solar-system-wide computer network, the faxes are effectively a form of transport, medical facility, factory, and glorified refrigerator all rolled into one. They are also one of the few valuable objects in the setting's economy, as the print plate of a fax machine is one of the very few things that another fax cannot produce.
- The Culture of Iain M. Banks's novels. The protagonist of Use of Weapons complains when he asks a ship Mind for some rubbish to shoot at, and is instead given a block of ice. The Mind explains that it doesn't have rubbish — just "matter that's currently in use, and matter that's available to be recycled and used for something else."
- Troy Rising "fabbers", much like their Schlock Mercenary counterparts, can build just about anything you want very quickly as long as you've got the raw materials. Much like the Schlock Verse, the crushed remains of enemy ships are frequently fed in as the raw materials in question.
- Alastair Reynolds' Revelation Space universe has "Manufactories", which are essentially extremely adaptable factories ranging from the size of a washing machine to enormous kilometer wide constructs. The devices require matter, and some time to actually build the object, but they can build a huge amount devices. The first novel, Revelation Space, has the "Warchive" on the starship Nostalgia For Infinity, which is a manufactory specifically designed to build guns, with an archive of millions of weapons from the modern age of the 2500s back to pre-history. If given certain parameters, it will splice together different guns to get the desired elements. The Prefect shows a manufactory in a space station that can build entire spaceships.
- L.E. Modesitt, Jr. The Fires of Paratime had time/space-traveling humans stealing matter duplicators from aliens called Murians. The duplicators were small, about the size of a suitcase (which was the limit that a human could carry back home, and the humans were users, not scientists or engineers), but anything put inside the doughnut-hole center of the device could be copied. Unless it was an electrical device and you left the power on, at which point the duplicator would explode with the force of several kilotons of TNT.
- In The House Left Empty by Robert Reed, most homes after the collapse of most of the world's governments have their own miniature "factories" that contain million of miniature robots, which can manufacture a wide variety of goods when given a supply of matter; machinery parts and basic foodstuffs are common creations. The protagonist rides in a copy of a 2021 Ferrari roadster which was built in pieces by a larger replicator. The story also shows the scientific uses of the devices - before the collapse, railguns fired what were essentially cannonballs packed with more powerful versions of the factory nanobots at distant worlds and asteroids, which would use solar power to break up minerals and use them to build up bases for future explorers.
- The Diamond Age by Neal Stephenson has "matter compilers" that are essentially nanotech fabricators using matter from the "Feed".
- Literal "matter duplicators" capable of copying both inanimate objects and living beings featured prominently in Perry Rhodan's Andromeda arc (issues #200 - #299). Since the downfall of the immortal overlords of that galaxy (involving a rather destructive all-out war raging through it towards the end), this technology with its obvious plot-wrecking potential hasn't been seen anymore and can be safely assumed to have been quietly and conveniently lost in the aftermath.
- Jesus "feeding the crowd with fish and bread" might actually qualify.
- The Star Carrier series uses nanotechnology to achieve this. Deep Space has a scene of a character ordering a coffee and having it basically 3D-printed by nanites. Starships are "grown" in record time by grabbing a nearby resource-rich asteroid and unleashing nanites on it. They strip-mine it and use the materials to quickly build a ship. Arcologies are "grown" the same way on Earth. It's pointed out that the reason the Space Navy can't replace old model Space Fighters with new ones quickly isn't because they can't produce them fast enough. They can. It's just that the pilots' neural hardware and software is designed for the old models and needs to be adapted, and the pilots themselves need to be retrained. It's easier with new pilots, who simply get the latest implants and training. It doesn't help that they introduce new models, sometimes, mere months after the previous one. This is also why there are no big cargo ships prowling the space lanes. With nano-growing, it doesn't make economic sense to lug physical things light-years away. Instead, trade ships specialize in information.
- George O. Smith's "Pandora's Millions", part of the Venus Equilateral series, is a detailed examination of the economic damage that could be caused by the invention of a matter replicator. The problem is only resolved when the protagonists invent a material that explodes violently when exposed to the replicator's scanning beam, which can be used as a medium of exchange.
- A variation is discussed in Scott Meyer's Spell or High Water. Since reality is nothing more than a computer program, which a few people have learned to modify (to an extent) by literally editing a text file on a computer, a "sorceress" named Brit has figured out that she can write a macro that builds objects molecule-by-molecule, thus allowing for monolithic objects made of pure diamond, including the entire city of Atlantis. Since levitation and teleportation is best accomplished with monolithic objects (any complex object is actually seen by the program as a collection of separate objects), this works out perfectly for "magic-users".
- In Meyer's Master of Formalities, bulkfabs are a typical example of this trope. Almost anything nonliving can be created using a bulkfab. A drink server typically carries a tray-sized bulkfab in order to make drinks on demand. In one case, several servants wonder why House Jakabitus bothers employing chefs, since they can get identical food out of a bulkfab, the same way everyone else on Apios does. A sous chef tries to explain that no bulkfab can match a professional chef, pointing out that each meal a chef makes is unique and personal, while a soulless bulkfab just spits out identical meals (assuming the same thing is ordered). The other servant counters that a faulty bulkfab would produce the same effect. During banquets, the chefs typically prepare meals only for members of House Jakabitus and any visiting lords and ladies. The cooked food is then scanned into a bulkfab, and copies are produced for the rest of the guests. Apparently, no one on the Hahn Homeworld has ever heard of a bulkfab, which is justified by the Hahn reveling in Comedic Sociopathy (i.e. it's much more fun to force someone to cook a meal rather than to use a bulkfab).
- Matter duplication is the core of the plot of Ralph Williams' "Business As Usual, During Alterations".
- Chakona Space: They have a few minor limitations but still prove useful. Especially on the Folly during "Alternate Thursdays".
- M.C.A. Hogarth's Paradox universe has "genies" which are ubiquitous enough to be included in college dorms. Though the energy costs are high enough that it's often easier to go to a store.
- Used in the Eldraeverse to provide its post-material-scarcity No Poverty, although somewhat limited by thermodynamics, conservation laws, etc. Unusually, they incorporate macro-scale construction tech alongside the Nano Machines, for efficiency's sake.
- Multi-material 3D printers are commonplace in The Pride Of Parahumans, and nanofabricators are alluded to but not actually seen in the novel itself. In the later "Para-Imperium" stories nanotechnological replicators are a staple technology of the interstellar Federation, and barred to colonies under memetic quarantine.
- The Stormlight Archive: Soulcasters, Magitek Lost Technology devices from the Shadowdays, can turn anything into anything else, using Stormlight stored in gemstones (the type of gemstone determines the type of transmutation). Their primary use is for Easy Logistics, turning rocks into food and waste into smoke, as well as materializing barracks literally out of thin air. Soulcasters aren't very detailed, however; food is bland and tasteless, while buildings are blocky and uniform. One trick is to carve something detailed using wood, and then Soulcast the wood to metal or stone. The Soulcasters are too rare to do that for everything, though, so blacksmiths and other artisans or miners still have their place.
Live Action TV
- Star Trek:
- Star Trek: The Next Generation has food replicators as a staple of shipboard life. There are also medical replicators that can produce replacement body parts and organs (including an entire replacement spine). Furthermore, Starfleet ships and stations use replication functions in their life support systems to efficiently purify the air into appropriate gas mixtures for reuse, thus forgoing the need for massive gas storage.
- In Deep Space 9 we get told about Industrial Replicators that are being sent to the Cardassians. By inference, these are the industrial complexes to the cottage industry of the shipboard replicators, as a small number of these is the Federation's answer to rebuilding Cardassia Prime.
- Since Star Trek replicators use the same basic technology as transporters, there are instances of transporter accidents replicating people.
- Fan theory says that when transporters break stuff down, each wavicle is nanoscopically tagged with its position and energy in the original (in the same way that packets on the Internet are tagged with their position in the original message.) This is why Voyager finds it more energy-efficient to beam up foodstuffs from a planet (and have them cooked by Neelix) than to replicate them: information is energy, so replicators consume energy arranging matter, whereas transported matter comes with the information to arrange itself.
- There are certain things the replicator can't make: Dilithium, Benamite,note living thingsnote , Pure Energy note , latinum (a handwave to allow currency to exist in the same universe as replicators), and antimatter (for obvious kaboomy reasons).
- The Twilight Zone episode "Valley of the Shadow", the inhabitants of the titular valley have advanced technology including a machine that can create any solid object based on its molecular pattern, entered by punchcard.
- Stargate Verse: The more advanced races have them, but they don't show up very often. The final episode of Stargate SG-1 makes the logical point that Teleporter=(Matter Replicator + Radio), so if you have one you have the other.
- Red Dwarf episode "Demons and Angels" features a matter replicator, with a caveat: all the virtues of the replicated object go into one copy, all the evils into another.
- Farscape had an episode where a villain used a wrist mounted version to "twin" people.
- Blake's 7: The People of Sardos have this technology, and are able to replicate anything from a tennis ball to a star cruiser using their living computer, Moloch.
- Power Rangers in Space: The Astro Megaship has such a device, called the Synthetron. It's mostly used for producing food and beverages, although the Rangers prefer the fare at the Surf Spot.
- The Outer Limits (1995) episode "Think Like a Dinosaur" had an alien interstellar matter transmitter machine on the Moon that transported people instantaneously across interstellar distances by copying them. Thus two identical people would exist: the original on the Moon, and the one transmitted elsewhere. The problem was the saurian-like aliens insisted that only one duplicate be allowed to exist in the universe, so each time the machine was used, the person at the "transmitting" side had to be disintegrated or killed. Sure enough, an accident happened where they could not confirm the receiver for several hours, resulting in a dilemma for the humans being allowed to use the alien device under supervision.
- Get Smart had a movie that involved the bad guys using an "instant cloning machine" that could replicate living people. Both sides used it to make an army of special agents before the machine was destroyed from overuse.
- In the X Minus One story "Protective Mimicry" a galactic treasury agent investigates the source of some credit notes that appear to be genuine save that they all have the same serial numbers, and since the printing process is so fiendishly complicated he believes that someone invented a matter duplicator. It turns out the counterfeiter found an alien tree that made copies of whatever "attacks" it, like a paper airplane made from a 50 credit note. And during the final fight the agent runs into said tree, making it a bit difficult to get tickets back home for all of him.
- Shadowrun features nanofaxes, what with it being a melting pot of cyberpunk tropes and all. Though they're very expensive.
- GURPS: Ultra-Tech They're balanced by truly massive power demands that require "cosmic" energy sources to be economical.
- Transhuman Space has universal 3D printers, which are very expensive, in the $200,000-1,000,000 range note
- Cthulhu Tech makes mention of nanoforges, devices that are used both in the industrial and consumer sector, that utilize specific matter codes to construct new things.
- Eclipse Phase has nanofabricators or "cornucopia machines" that form the basis of distinction between the three major economies. "Old" economies restrict fabricators to an elite class; "transitional" economies have public fabricators that all taxpaying or service fee-paying citizens can use to produce anything that doesn't use a lot of electronics or rare elements, which have to be bought or made with a desktop nanofab using blueprints and raw materials you bought yourself; and "new" economies don't restrict their public nanofabs they just give everyone a daily ration of raw materials, and they don't use money either.
- Mindjammer has makepoints that convert zero-point energy to matter. But they have an easier time producing simple elements or molecules so there is still a lot of traditional manufacturing, their most common use is life support (air and food) on starships.
- In Hc Svnt Dracones stores have largely been replaced with "Buyspots" where one can order something that the owning Mega Corp. produces and a 3-D printer will make it on demand. Manufacturing centers can also be added to spaceships. And there's the Spontaneous Assembly Machine which is the size of a baseball and contains a bunch of Nano Machines and super-compressed foams for rapidly constructing things without moving parts in the field (like cover).
- Homeworld, described in surprising detail in the fluff. Basically, it's a very high-tech 3D printer that can work with any material. Aside from justifying the Ridiculously Fast Construction seen in the games, it also justifies repair ships - small-scale precision version projecting matter to mend fractures and seal hull breaches - and even the Command And Conquer Economics - reversing the beam to take matter apart instead of projecting it, then separating and sorting chemical elements by atomic mass, resulting in 100% efficient mining with no waste.
- Fallout: New Vegas utilizes them in the form of the Sierra Madre Vending Machines. They can turn casino chips into other things like ammo, food and medicine. These chips are made from just plain scrap metal and some form of fissionable material, if the crafting window is to be believed.
- Hostile Waters Antaeus Rising has nanotechnology that acts like this as one of its themes. Creation engines were invented that could build anything from nothing, atom by atom. Attempts to regulate the technology by corrupt governments led to a planetwide socialist revolution, and 20 years later the world is a war-free post-scarcity Utopia. The eponymous Antaeus carrier caries a powerful creation engine that allows it to manufacture helicopters and tanks in the space of seconds when given a supply of scrap metal.
- The DOLLI devices in Quantum Conundrum are capable of duplicating objects in mass quantities as long as they're given enough Science Juice to run on. They can also duplicate living things, though with less-than-perfect results.
- Startopia: Combined with an Energy Economy, you could replicate raw materials, furniture and entire buildings from your energy stores. You also have a teleporter that works on inanimate objects from trash and bombs (which freezes the countdown) to scuzzer droids. The teleporter doesn't work on living things.
- Starcraft II Wings Of Liberty mentions a "nano-fabricator" in one of Stettman's research notes. Which may justify the Ridiculously Fast Construction.
- Star Trek Online features a replicator that can be used to replicate health-restoring food, commodities for missions, and even some basic weapons and shields for use on away missions. The replicator can also be used to "recycle" (sell) many types of items to get Energy Credits, which is the game's main currency.
You can access your replicator anywhere you are, but this convenience is balanced in that replicated commodities are more expensive than when bought from a vendor. Also, vendors can give you more Energy Credits per item if you sell your items to them (50% of item value) instead of recycling them with your replicator (40%).
- PlanetSide has replicators in many flavors. Equipment terminals and vehicle terminals in both games manufacture armor/weapons and vehicles, respectively, right on the spot and almost instantaneously. "Lockers" in the first game are actually replicators; stuff an enemy's weapon into a locker and you'll be able to retrieve it at any locker in any friendly base even if it has no power. The Adaptive Construction Engine in PS1 is slapped into the ground or a wall and converts pure nanites into useful equipment; Spitfire turrets and its derivatives, motion sensors, boomers (C4), mines, etc. The larger Field Deployment Unit can convert itself into manned turrets, tank traps, and cloaking fields.
- Borderlands features Digistructing, a digital process that allows any constructor system with an occulus the size of a baseball to construct entire battlefield robots, cars, and guns. The process is applied to gameplay, as you reload and equip guns by digistructing them from thin air, but organic construction was declared non-canon so the process isn't at the singularity level yet.
- Schlock Mercenary The fabber is an odd case of a Matter Replicator that uses mechanical labor. Full-scale fabbers have arrays of tools capable of building things as large as starships or as fine as bodies with blank brains. Smaller units use Nanotechnology instead of human sized robots seen in the very large fabber facilities.
- In addition Wormgates could copy exactly anything that passed through one of them using matter from stars. The Gatekeepers primarily used it to abduct clones of the richest percent of the galactic population and interrogate them.
- A Miracle of Science, Mars gives most of the major nations of the Sol system "Autofactories" that can produce nearly anything from basic raw materials. Martians themselves can use the Nano Machines in their bodies to alter physical objects and most of their buildings are made of "smart matter" that can rearrange itself at will.
- The tongue-in-cheek comic Real Life has evil scientist Tony Flansaas making a duplication chamber out of glass and off-the-shelf electronics in just a few hours in his friend's garage. The cloning machine could make infinite copies of anything placed inside of the six-foot-by-three-feet tube, including live people such as Tony himself, and Tony once re-set the controls to have the machine duplicate itself so he could take a copy with him. Tony also stated that the cloning machine could dematerialize any matter placed inside the chamber back into energy if needed. (Which he did, to destroy hundreds of clones of himself.)
- Spacetrawler: Space debris, garbage, and dead bodies get dumped into the spacetrawler. Anything the user wants—from food to complex machinery—comes out. It's noted that spacetrawler-produced food tends to tastes like asteroids.
- Quentyn Quinn, Space Ranger has replicators like Star Trek, but with sufficient resolution to duplicate living things. The ethics and mechanics of this device are an important plot point, as the level of ingenuity is only surpassed by its potential for sheer torture.
- The second episode had Quentyn ranting at some Holier-Than-Thou Star Trek expies that matter replicating yourself (teleportation) is literally suicide because it kills the user and then reconstructs a clone made of their vaporized atoms at the other end. The captain then insults him back by asking what the big deal is when matter-replication teleport and interdimensional warping have the same result, only matter-replication is faster. Cue the mutated engineer who took one teleportation trip too many.
- One senator found a way to satisfy his murder fetish by being the perfect gentleman to a naïve little girl, and then replicating her entire body down to the neurons in her brain, the original unaware that he made a sex slave copy of her. Cue rape stomp slaughter. He did this to multiple girls multiple times, and at first he took them on dates only to have them leave straight into the matter replicator to be vaporized without realization.
- An entire episode was dedicated to the pros and cons of giving free matter replicator schematics to the public. The average reaction is surprisingly good. And by surprisingly good we mean that it saved an entire civilization from total economic collapse at the hands of its control-freak oligarchy, at the cost of nuking two whole continents with replicated explosives. Quentyn still keeps his sedative cigars for the resulting PTSD. Also, it's possible to replicate a bomb capable of exploding with a radius two-hundred times larger than the food processor that replicated it. Ah, progress.
- In The Whiteboard Doc and Roger once got drunk and tried to upgrade Howie's taps with a replicator, but they crossed some wires and it converted itself and a large chunk of the bar into a flood of nasty warm beer.
- The Transformers: In "Cosmic Rust", one of the key ingredients for Perceptor's Corrostop compound (which undoes and protects against corrosion) runs out. There does not appear to be any more left. Because the Decepticons accidentally caused an outbreak of the titular disease, this is something of a problem. So Perceptor and Wheeljack have to work their butts off to get Wheeljack's Matter Duplicator to actually work so that the Autobots can produce all the Corrostop they need from a tiny remaining sample.
- Ben 10: Ultimate Alien: Ma Vreedle used a giant machine in one episode to combine cloning mix and salt water in a bid to create 4 billion Vreedles that would have used the entire oceans of earth.
- Frylock's Cloner. If it's used too much, Clone Degeneration turns the replicated objects weird. David Lynch weird.
- In Einstein's theories (the famous E=mc2), it is possible to replicate energy into matter and vice versa while still following that pesky law of equivalent exchange, just like alchemy and Star Trek's replicators, but in order to assemble 1 kilogram of matter, you need to consume as much energy as the detonation of 21.5 megatons of TNT. As a result of other conservation laws, you won't be able to get a kilo of ordinary matter - instead, you'll get half a kilo of matter and half a kilo of antimatter (which, unless contained, will annihilate with ordinary matter yielding back the energy you started with and making the whole thing an exercise in futility).
- The advent of 3D printing has brought this trope one step closer to reality. NASA is already funding research to see if it's possible to use a 3D printer to make food that it is difficult to prepare in zero gravity (Pizza, for example - shredded cheese is quite messy to work with in zero-g).
- Related is the theoretical Drexler machine, an array of nanoscale multipurpose machines that construct whatever you want out of individual molecules and atoms.
- Claytronics, an emerging nanotechnology centering on tiny computerized "atoms" working together in tandem to construct larger objects.