Understanding nanotech [was Re: Major Domo/Gov model]

Robert J. Bradbury (bradbury@www.aeiveos.com)
Fri, 27 Aug 1999 16:13:01 -0700 (PDT)

On Fri, 27 Aug 1999 hal@finney.org wrote:

> But just yesterday Robert suggested that it would take five years to
> build a mansion using nanotech.

I'm still wrestling with the heat limits, I think I can shave some time off of this.

> I don't need to "control everything" to want my house built
> faster than that! Bill Gates didn't have to wait five years to get his
> house built today (once construction started), and he didn't even have
> nanotech.

Well, I've been involved in a fair number of construction projects (something like 4 houses at various times) and know some of the people that worked on various parts of the Gates project. It isn't the construction that kills you, its getting *designs* and communicating with the construction people. If I could air-drop 0.5 Mkg of self-assembling Nano-legos on your pristine mountian top tomorrow where would you be? Maybe they come with enough power "built-in" to assemble themselves at some rate limited by the speed of sound and/or the velocity of wind blowing the heat produced off the mountian top. As soon as you get it half finished you are going to decide on something you didn't think of. If you want to add that, you have 2 choices (a) select an off-the-shelf design; (b) program it yourself. If you chose (a), you are still likely to be less than "completely satisfied" and have to resort to (b) anyway.

I suspect that to get exactly what you want, you are going to be limited by (a) your ability to decide what that is and (b) comunicate it to the builders.

> I agree with Eugene that I don't need to make my house out of a single
> crystal of sapphire; but what I do want is to make it out of machinery.
> I want [...followed by Hal's House Wish List ...]

Not asking for much are we... I'd just be happy with someplace to sit and read books.

> All this means that we are back to Robert's construction method, full
> nanotech for every piece of the house. Throwing a few polymers together
> isn't going to cut it. This means we are only able to construct 10 kg
> per hour and it might take years to get our house built.

Actually polymers are pretty good. An ideal material would be buckytubes because they have a high strength-to-weight factor. Most of what you want in a house is shelter from the elements. If you can do things like lower the weight of the roof by assembling a thin array of solar cells and tie everything together with cables directly into an immovable foundation you have something that can easily deal with wind & rain, In snowy climates you would either need more support or a roof that can actively melt the snow. The mass of most houses now is in large part to control heat gain/loss. Since you can fill the walls with thin but high R-value sol-gel (or better yet "vacuum") most of the wall thickness goes away. Now that I'm thinking of this, this is clearly why you don't want to use diamond in houses (its a great heat conductor). Heat flow in isn't as much of a problem because you can always have active reflective outer surfaces. Internal heat from stoves, people, etc, is easily dealt with.

I would guess that you could cut the mass of a standard house constructed out of nanomaterials (my previous estimates) to a nanodesigned nanotech house by at least a factor of 10, maybe more.

So, I'm pretty sure the mansion construction time is down to months.

> That sounds like a recipe for scarcity to me.

What is scarce is the designs for all the stuff on our wish list. If you can solve *that* problem, then I think the construction aspect is easy.

> Some people will be better situated than others, with more sunlight or
> access to seawater or perhaps they are sitting on a coal mine full of
> easily-tapped carbon.

Something that really needs to be worked out is the "bottom line" costs for materials derived from sea-water. Adding air-freight to that is trivial (the nice thing about nanotech is no more ground delivery); active packages get dropped out of high speed transports and land on your lawn (this is probably even doable without nanotech).

Since most of the bulk materials are going to be very abundant and easily substituted (saphire for bucky-tubes for example), There aren't going to be any "real" scarcities (those based in survival requirements), only perceptual ones -- "I want my house to have a nice alpha radiation glow to it... and be sure to use the natural gandolinium 147, not that synthetic particle beam synthesized crap.

> There will be differences, too, in where people
> want to live. Many people will prefer the breathtaking vistas of the
> mountains or the seaside cliffs rather than the drab Kansas prairie.

Now, you have hit the nail on the head. Since internally you will be able to have any "virtual vista" though, the external vista may be much less important than we now consider it to be. The reality snobs will want those vistas, I'll admit. However, there are interesting downsides to this -- I love the appearance of Mt. Ranier (on those few clear days I can see it), but I'd really rather that it *weren't* a volcano.

There are going to be two very interesting "gold rushes". One might happen if we get air cars before "real" nanoassembly. Then people can move to places that are serviced by current roads (for hauling in materials), where the land prices are low and the vistas are great and still commute to a nearby city for "real" jobs. The second will occur when you can build your house virtually "anywhere" you can throw the nanoseeds. It would be very interesting for those of us who are nano-literate to make friends with the die-hard wilderness types to find those places that (a) have great vistas, (b) are very difficult to get to; (c) are on private land; and (d) would currently be cheap to buy. We then organize a Extropian real estate trust and start buying up such locations around the world.

> It is mistaken to suppose that just because nanotech can easily provide
> the basics for moderate material riches by today's standards, there
> would be no more scarcity and no more reason for trade. Most people will
> simply raise their standards.

Yes so what? Unless your "standards" are growing faster than your nanotech assembly rate you are always in a situation of overabundance. If you look at Gates/Ellison for example, they can't "consume" as fast as their wealth grows. The problem becomes - the more stuff you "have" the more stuff you have to "manage". "Gee, which one of the 365 Extropian-time-shared mansions am I going to visit today? ... Computer, lookup where that feisty Finney fellow is staying and get my aircar fueled to go there..."

[Note -- even with the computer doing all the "management", I can only focus my attention on the "consumption" of a single resource.]

Only if you are connected to an intelligence that grows as fast as the nanotech growth rate, do I think you get into a condition of scarcity. You get exponetial growth in material resources (until you hit the solar system limits and that takes at least 500 years). But as Moravec points out in his Robots book, to get more "intelligence", you may have to do simulations and designs. Interpreting those and deciding the direction of the next step may make "intelligence" growth lag nanotech growth quite a bit. [For example, I would think the implementation of better AI strategies is lagging significantly behind Moores Law. The rate of invention of new computer architectures is probably even worse.]

You may go back to a condition of scarcity when you have hit the matter & energy limits and/or when you have reached some optimal intelligence architecture for some type of problem you want to think about.

> It is human nature; we judge ourselves not so much by our absolute level
> of success, but by our relative success compared to our neighbors.
> This is arguably a useful heuristic; it automatically calibrates for
> the inherent difficulties of survival in the local situation. If I am
> not doing as well as my neighbors, I can probably improve my situation
> by trying something different, no matter how well or poorly we are all doing.

It depends on the individual. The problem is "what is success"? Now it is viewed primarily as material stuff. Once everyone can have more of that than they can effectively utilize, it has to shift. You have to think of how many different things people can use as "success markers". It might be "fame" or "appearance" or owning a 1919 Bugatti (original) or having read all of Tolstoy's works, or having 5 college degrees, etc. I think you are right about "trying something different". There are only three things you can do: "more, better and different". Nanotech makes "more" fairly silly, at least for a while. I suspect that "better" rapidly gets difficult as well because you probably quickly get very near the limits allowed by physical laws in constructing many things. All that is left is "different". And if you look at the lifestyles of Gates/Ellison/Allen they are quite different.

> It may even be possible to have a market in nanotech designs, *not*
> open source, but custom designs by talented designers who have chosen
> to sell their ideas rather than give them away.

I believe this. But its going to depend on the legal situation surrounding the design. Do I want to spend the money on a designer original or am I happy buying a cheap knockoff. If the designs can't be completely protected then cheaper replicants are inevitable. Can an Earth design be protected on Mars, or an asteroid, etc.

> We've all seen what a great artist can do compared
> to a mediocre one, and I could easily imagine that people would be
> willing to pay to get access to designs by the top names in the world.

No argument. There will always be a market for everything. But whether it is "scarce" depends on the supply & the demand. My argument in post-nanotech world the demand will be largely artificial (it will not be based on requirements for personal survival). You haven't convinced me that everyone will march lock-step to the newscaster announcing -- "and here we have the HAL 3000 upgrade, available for purchase at ...".

> A post-nanotech, pre-singularity world, while providing great material
> comforts, will not extinguish all the differences among people which
> motivate them to engage in trade.