Another possibility that hasn't been discussed is that nanotech might
not be entirely automated! It could be that for anything more
complicated than raw diamond, you'll need a group of nanoengineers
painstakingly assembling the object and watching for errors, with
automation of the process coming later in the game.
All things considered, nanomaterials will probably start out at
thousands or millions of dollars per gram, too expensive for anything
but nanocomputers, with prices dropping by a factor of ten every year or
so. This is still much more gradual than "Surprise! Everything is a
dollar a kilo!" It looks like nanomanufacturing will hit the economy
gradually, rather than sharply, relatively speaking. This is probably
good. The problem is that even automated manufacturing of raw diamond
gives you military superiority in fighter jets, and isotopic separation
and mass-produced nukes comes not too long after that.
If nanotech comes first, the two key questions are military
destabilization and the effect of nanocomputers on AI. If nanocomputers
are classified as military material, so AI researchers (and specifically
the Singularity Institute) can't get them, then the situation looks a
lot worse. If nanotech comes within the next five years, and nobody has
the source code for a brute-force AI ready, things look much *much*
worse (although there'd still be a good chance of being able to set up
some crude type of biological intelligence enhancement).
-- firstname.lastname@example.org Eliezer S. Yudkowsky http://singinst.org/beyond.html
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