Re: Fears of nanotech
Sat, 4 Sep 1999 09:12:49 EDT

In a message dated 99-08-29 13:56:57 EDT, writes:

> "Robert J. Bradbury" wrote:
> >
> > > If people are frightened to death I say "GOOD!" because that's less
> > > insane than the mind-boggling naivete exhibited by most researchers.
> >
> > Seriously Eliezer, could you explain a bit more what it is you are
> > afraid of --
> > (a) self-replicating machines;
> > (b) our ability to program such machines;
> > (c) the advanced materials properties allowed by hard-nanotech;
> > (d) every [sane] person being able to do (b) on (a) constructed from
> > (e) the dangers that result from (d) including not-quite-so-sane
> > (f) the risks posed by allowing nanomachinery to "evolve";
> > (g) something I've missed?
> (e) - deliberately constructed nanoweapons. I'm not ecstatic about (f)
> but I don't visualize anyone being that dumb.

Because it's not hard to imagine scenarios with advanced nanotech in which one or more Bad Crazies destroy the planet, I share the fairly common fears associated with it. However, a point that a couple of experienced defense professionals shared with me earlier this year is the fact that there are astonishingly few examples of the kind of mass havoc that Bad Crazies could be wreaking now with existing Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMDs). Consider the old 1960s scenario of "Charles Manson putting acid in LA's water supply" or similar biochemical attacks. The Om Yo Ricio attacks in Japan are the only example of a terrorist chemical incident of which I'm aware. Likewise, with the dissolution of the old Soviet Union, it seems like a seriously committed band of well-financed terrorists ought by now to have been able to have gotten a small nuke to use for terrorist purposes.

State terrorism has also been surprisingly limited. Saddam Hussein COULD have used chemical or biological warheads in his SCUDs, but didn't. Hitler could have, but didn't use biological or chemical weapons on the battlefield. Why?

I don't propose to have an answer for these questions, but they do point to some limiting factors that curtail the frequency with which WMDs are used. Of course, the problem with advanced nanotech is that it presumably lowers the threshold for an isolated Bad Crazy to build a WMD. If it only increases the danger by a factor of ten, the effect could be devastating.

     Greg Burch     <>----<>
     Attorney  :::  Vice President, Extropy Institute  :::  Wilderness Guide   -or-
                         "Civilization is protest against nature; 
                  progress requires us to take control of evolution."
                                      -- Thomas Huxley