Re: near-anything boxes allowed to be in the hands of the public?

From: Anders Sandberg (
Date: Wed Mar 08 2000 - 02:33:59 MST

The problem with this discussion is that it assumes a binary
situation: first we have a situation similar to today economically and
politically, and then we have a situation where there are
near-anything boxes around. No wonder that things get messy. This
scenario doesn't strike me as particulary realistic, and will likely
just mislead our thinking.

Instead, imagine a gradual transition that can be more or less fast:
first expensive nanotech in the lab, then expensive nanotech for
biomedical and chip applications, then industrial nanotech, then
consumer nanotech products and eventually consumer near-anything
boxes. This transition will cause political and economic changes
almost from the start, and how people respond to them will shape what
regulations will be put on the boxes and by whom.

A comparision with computers might be relevant: they are the
near-anything boxes of our era. I can run software on my computer for
entertainment or for cyber-terrorism, write academic papers or pirate
software and spread libel, and so on. How well has the currently
strong Powers That Be managed to control the computer? So far attempts
to institute limitations in hardware and software have failed
miserably, both due to technical workarounds but mainly consumer
protest. The law has tried to keep up but it has not worked well, and
even if something is banned (say distributed denial of service
software or anthrax recipes) there is no reason to expect it to

The computer was not an unexpected development, but the consequences
were. Once there was enough linked computers around they became very
hard to regulate and control. I think this hints at what might occur
in a nanotech society: nanotech development is totally expected
(*already* some business people are hyping it!), but the implications
of widespread nanofacture will be so broad that the consequences will
be hard to manage - and that is just industrial nanofacture, not
private nanofacture.

If the transition to nanotech is sufficiently slow rules and rulers
might keep up, but to actually control something like that is likely
just as hard as controlling the Internet. Ubiquitious surveillance and
similar draconian measures *might* do it, but that assumes voters and
consumers accept it, which is doubtful (not impossible to sell given
enough time and work, but there are bound to be strong interests
against it). If the transition is faster than they can keep up with,
something that seems to have happened for most other radical
technologies (computers, genetic engineering etc) then they will not
be in any position to instate working controls anyway.

My estimate will be that any controls on near-anything boxes will be
put in by the manufacturer (or rather, design company). People will
likely want some security locks so that their children do not
nanofacture guns or they themselves accidentally dial sulphuric
acid. But these will likely be variable and model-dependent.

Of course, a lot in this discussion assumes there are recipes for
near-anything easily available on the net. That might take much longer
than the spread of the boxes.

Anders Sandberg                                      Towards Ascension!                  
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y

This archive was generated by hypermail 2b29 : Thu Jul 27 2000 - 14:04:44 MDT