SCI and ECON nanotech

John K Clark (
Mon, 23 Sep 1996 21:33:25 -0700 (PDT)


On Mon, 23 Sep 1996 Lyle Burkhead <> Wrote:

>suppose there are mite-sized humans (or mite-sized robots
>with human intelligence). [...] They have the same
>capability, on their level, that IBM, Exxon, etc. have on our
>level. They have equivalent tools, the same ability to
>acquire or invent new tools, similar computers, the same
>access to outside consultants and subcontractors, the same
>corporate organization, everything. They are clones of IBM,
>Exxon, Bechtel, and Genentech.

That's not a good analogy to Nanotechnology, but you can turn it into one if
you make 2 slight adjustments. (NOTE: I use the term "slight adjustments" in
the same spirit you did in a previous post.)

1) Instead of having one Bechtel and one IBM etc, there are trillions of them.
2) Each Bechtel or IBM is able to make an exact copy of itself, of the same
size and the same quality, in a few days, perhaps a few hours.

It's a straw man to keep talking about things being free, but In such a world
the supply of engineering services would be astronomically larger than it is
now, and the last time I looked at an Economics text book the supply of
something is an important factor determining the cost of that thing.

>Drexler's "dizzying prospect" doesn't depend on moving atoms
>one by one -- that's a red herring. What makes the prospect
>dizzying is the idea that entities with at-least-human
>intelligence will do our bidding.

To design interesting structures intelligence is very handy to have, it
certainly makes things happen MUCH faster, but it isn't absolutely necessary,
just look at evolution. As for manufacturing, that doesn't need intelligence
at all. Ribosomes would score a zero on a IQ test, yet they can make EXTREMELY
complex proteins if they receive the correct digital information that tells
them how from messenger RNA. Actually they can do even better than that,
as long as they receive the correct digital information that tells the how to
do it they can make even more complex objects, objects like you and me.

This doesn't mean there won't be super human artificial intelligence, there
most certainly will be, I just want to point out that a lot can happen even
without it.

>Why would a mite-sized Exxon take orders from me, when the
>actual Exxon wouldn't?

In other words, would you or me have any control over all this? I don't know.
I never said we would be rich, or that we would even be around, I only said
that the price of things will drop to almost, but not quite, zero. I am not
at all convinced that we will survive the turmoil of the singularity,
but we might, at least it's a chance, and without it we are all doomed to old
age and oblivion. That is reason for hope, and at the very least, things
won't be dull.

John K Clark

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