SCI and ECON Nanotech

Lyle Burkhead (
Mon, 30 Sep 1996 23:27:52 -0500 (EST)

Damien Broderick:
> If we accept the argument in Drexler et al (UNBOUNDING THE
> FUTURE, 1991, p. 259),

Before continuing, let's have a look at that page. Eric Drexler says:
> In the long run, it seems wise to assume that someone, somewhere,
> somehow, will escape the bounds of regulation and arm control
> and apply molecular-manufacturing capabilities to making novel
> weapons...

This is not an argument, it's just a scenario. At this point in the book,
he takes it for granted that there is such a thing as molecular
manufacturing, which can be used to make weapons. The arguments
for this are given much earlier.

Of course, it is wise to assume that somebody may escape the bounds of
regulation and use *any* technology to make weapons. This concern is
independent of the technology used. He could say "biotechnology"
instead of "molecular manufacturing," and the point would still be valid.
As far as that goes, some people make effective weapons with fertilizer
and fuel oil.

Anyway, Damien continues:
> the only way to stop some demented or feckless brat from
> reprogramming his genie to emit meteorological quantities Aum
> Supreme Truth happy gas, or pick plutonoium out of the sea and
> stockpile it for later fun times, is to maintain strong regulatory
> authorities which licence users of genies able to produce dangerous
> outputs only if these are restricted to sealed assembler labs or
> factories. This rather short-sheets the utopian dream of a genie in
> every pocket, but I find it hard to see any other way to forestall the
> Fermi Paradox.

to which Anders Sandberg replies:
> The other obvious way is to get the hell away from Earth as soon
> (or better, before) we get that level of MNT.

Well, an even better way to deal with this is to get the idea in focus,
and see that it is basically absurd. Making sarin with diamondoid-based
assemblers is not going to be any easier than making sarin with
biotechnology, or with conventional chemical synthesis. In fact it
would be harder.

You could design a cell to synthesize sarin. It would take a long time.
It would take some expensive lab equipment, and some biochemists and
biotechnicians with hard-to-acquire skills, but it could be done.
Cells produce a lot of other toxins similar to sarin. (There may already
be a cell that produces sarin; I don't know. In that case, your only
problem would be to produce large quantities of it.)

Designing a diamondoid-based assembler to make sarin would be much
harder, because diamondoid machinery is intended to work with other
diamondoid machinery. Organic molecules like sarin don't fit into the
neat diamondoid world of molecular manufacturing.

If somebody wants to claim that the diamondoid genie machine will
reprogram itself for free, so all you have to say is "I want a ton of sarin,"
and presto, it appears... all I can say at this point is: balderdash.

Designing and programming machinery to perform complex tasks
isn't going to get any easier in the 21st century. It will always be a job
for experts. Programming will not be free or instantaneous in the future
any more than it is now.