Programmable matter takes on the qualities of other matter. It can become pliable as clay, or strong as diamond. A book-sized piece of programmable matter could become a toolkit, a lightweight bicycle, a set of clothing, a weatherproof tent, a bulletproof window, a supercomputer, and more. A surface coated with the stuff might be made frictionless, scratch-proof, perfectly light-absorbent or reflecting, glowing or patterned, or warm to the touch. Different regions of the surface can take on different properties, allowing (for instance) a touch-screen on one side and solar panels on the other.
Programmable matter is a powerful tool. Most people in high-Nano civilizations own a block of it as an emergency device in case their replicator breaks down. Explorers and travelers often carry it as an all-in-one toolkit.
Those with programmable matter will never lack for infosphere access, a tool, or a weapon. If they have enough of the stuff, they can have some become solar panels to power the rest. They may still lack for food, as creating a working replicator is beyond the current limitations of programmable matter.
Sales (or replications, more likely) of most small useful items drop substantially once programmable matter is introduced. One might replicate pipe, but not a wrench to put it together with. One might replicate a set of nails, but not the nail gun. As those sales decrease, “matter programmer” becomes a more viable profession, and people sell templates for blocks of matter to transform into.
Programmable matter can keep some forms without a constant expenditure of energy (the lower-tech the better), but it needs a source of electricity in order to be fully effective. It also needs energy to change from one form to another.
Ordering programmable matter to assume a liquid or gaseous state is a waste of time. One will, at best, be left with a pile of inert scrap.
Because programmable matter requires a constant flow of electricity, it is often cheaper and more convenient to simply fabricate a particular device if it will be used for a long period of time.
Characters with access to programmable matter will always have whatever tools they need, from high-tech devices to basic wrenches and screwdrivers. Programmable matter is an energy hog by low-tech standards. It also grows warm as it is used. Too many transformations in a short time may make it hot enough to burn skin. The larger the change, the longer should be allowed for cooling.
Most programmable matter includes several data ghosts that are loaded up for various purposes when the matter is reconfigured. Sentient digital intelligences, however, avoid being housed in programmable matter. There is too high a chance that it will be reconfigured without enough computing power to maintain them.
Core Tech: Nanotech