Re: SPACE: How hard IS it to get off Earth?

Robert J. Bradbury (
Sun, 14 Nov 1999 19:56:55 +0300

The latest set of messages seem to present a very mixed bag.

As Greg setup the initial scenario as, *having* a "classic" Drexlerian assembler, I'm going to have to side with Doug and Billy on the probability that we can get up there fast and produce livable environments. The only thing that would prevent that is a lack of preparation on our part (i.e. not producing the tools we expect will be required in a timely manner) or a very well organized police-'world' environment arrayed against the colonizers.

Some of the discussion seems to have run off into the realm of can we get off the planet *to* develop biotech/nanotech to its full capabilities (i.e. how do we avoid the police-state working against us). I think the answer here is that you don't. Since nanotech

is basically "small" technology, I think you can work on it away from the 'light of day' and be successful. When you need big stuff you can assemble it from little stuff. Big brother is going to have a hard time doing global tracking of nanotech mass-drivers that launch self-assembling nanobots into orbit at supersonic speeds from random points around the world.

One thread seems to focus on the problem of getting off the planet fast because we must to survive (presumably due to creeping grey goo). I want to go on record that I think Grey Goo is an irrational fear given the logical development trends. Grey Goo does have mass
(element abundance), energy and disassembly design constraints.
I do *not* believe that those will be easy problems to work around and they do suggest possible avenues for defense. The only scenario I can imagine in which Grey Goo becomes a serious threat is if a significantly enhanced amoral intelligence develops and designs it *or* self-evolution is allowed on a much faster than real-time, real-world simulation. Without one of those two situations, I believe that defenses
would keep pace with or even ahead of any offenses.

With regard to the stale atmosphere issues, these are taken care of by molecular sorting. With regard to food production, people seem to be still thinking ancient-tech. A full complement of nutritious & tasty gruels with all the necessary vitamins, proteins, fats & carbohydates will be able to be produced in bacteria/yeast, directly from sunlight or electricity, using biotech, long before we have hard nanotech available.

With regard to the patchwork code of the human genome and our ability to augment it, we will have to see how things turn out. I would offer a couple of comments -- studies show that mutations in a majority of genes do not result in fatal defects and transgenic animal studies have shown that we often have backup systems for any single function
(this makes sense given that the prototype mammalian genome has been
duplicated at least twice). So I think there is going to be a lot of junk
and a lot of extra stuff we don't need. The question will become -- do you simply bite the bullet and generate as many new "improved" genomes as fast as you possibly can, recycling the failures (as nature does) or do you wait a little, expand your computational capacity and do all the genome experimentation in silico where you don't have to worry as much about whether people see you feeding the dead babies to the hydroponic yeast blob?