Re: Submolecular nanotech [WAS: Goals]

Michael S. Lorrey (
Mon, 17 May 1999 19:01:08 -0400

"Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" wrote:

> Not hydrogen-into-gold (does jon have any idea how much energy that
> would release? it'd be orders of magnitude more than an equivalent
> thermonuclear hydrogen-to-helium), not even close, but it strikes me as
> a good reason to believe that nucleus-manipulating "atomic
> picotechnology" would be an active frontier once atom-manipulating
> "molecular nanotechnology" matured.

Actually, it wouldn't be orders of magnitude more. It might actually take quite a bit of extra energy to complete. The energy break-even point for fusion is at the level of iron. Gold is decidedly further up the elemental scale than that, in the area of lead (the common byproduct of the uranium fission series). It might be simpler to tailor high level element isotopes that will degrade into gold. I doubt it is that simple though, or nature would have produced a lot more gold than there is.

> What the heck does he - does *any* race with that kind of technology -
> want with gold, anyway?

gold is the best metallic electrical conductor, its easily alloyable and malleable, which is of obvious use to any technologist.

IMHO he would be far smarter to want to develop nanotechnology that burrows and swims for the expressed purpose of recovering gold from deep down and laying golden eggs on the Earth's surface. The gold content of the manganese nodules that litter the Abyssal Plains of the deep oceans is of immense value. Getting all that metal to the surface is another issue entirely, and one that may have no real cost effective need for the time being, now that the Russian economy and its resources are open to the west. When I was a child, gold was over $800.00 an ounce (over 20 years ago). Friday the spot price of gold was a mere $277 and change. The Russians are dumping gold and other precious metals on the world market to keep their economy afloat, and their mines are only getting bigger.

I recall in Larry Niven's _A Gift from Earth_, the inhabitants of the planet Plateau used specially bred worms that burrowed for specific metals, refining and excreting them.

Mike Lorrey