Re: Lyle's Law

Damien Broderick (
Sat, 05 Oct 1996 15:32:52 +1000

At 08:58 PM 10/4/96 -0700, John K Clark wrote (of Lyle Burkhead's post that

> >This is very boring. [...] I find myself in the odd
> >of trying to convince grown-ups that Santa Clause doesn't

> >exist. )

>Lyle, with your short attention span [...etc, adding:]

> LYLE'S LAW: Whatever the future has in store for us of one thing we should
> be certain, the universe must be constructed in such a way that the
> of late 20 'th century bipeds on the third planet orbiting a small star on
> the edge of a run of the mill galaxy will never find things odd.

As a newbie to the extropian and transhuman lists, I have to say I regret
the tone of rancor that seems to have crept into these public postings of
late. Perhaps it's a cyclical phenomenon. I, for one, have enjoyed and
learned from both John's and Lyle's posts, and have written privately to
both of them to say so (and to seek permission from them to include their
declared opinions in the book I'm now writing on the Singularity). It
strikes me that Lyle keeps raising quite salient questions about the
*detailed architecture and practise* of certain canonical nano claims, but
does so in a teasing and finally annoyingly flip manner. John (among
others) seems to respond as if Lyle's requests for detailed flow-charts are
redundant and even slightly blasphemous acts of lese majeste.

This is a shame, because we need the detail even more than the grand
speculative strokes.

To consider a recent exchange: I asked whether people in an early nano
society might be obliged to accept draconian authoritarian controls to
forestall self-obliterative use of an Unstoppable Salt Mill (you know, the
fairytale device that explains why the sea is salt - it's down under the
water even now, cranking out its ceaseless stream of salt). The range of
responses stretched from (a) it can't happen, because nano assemblers can
only do X and even that only with great difficulty, (b) it can and probably
will but that's okay because we (we?) will be off the planet by then (by
2015?!) [and why won't the folks in the habitat or on Mars also bugger
things up with their handy assemblers?], (c) it's cool, because we (we???)
will have Transcended. Do you see why Lyle (category a) might think he was
dealing with the Santa Claus Fan club?

On the other hand, this is not the kind of blithe response Drexler and his
colleagues offered in UNBOUNDING THE FUTURE: `Any critic declaring this to
be an optimistic book hereby stands charged with having failed to read and
understand...' [p. 259]

But Lyle's apparently odd assertion that molecular manufacturing devices
would only be able to make limited diamondoid structures rather than, say,
sarin gas, is absolutely inconsistent with everything I've read about the
projected technology. Instead of declaring the boosters' claims `very
boring', I wish he'd given detailed analyses of why modularised,
bottom-up-bootstrapping nanomech systems are impracticable. I suspect he
shares my hunch that orders of magnitude are being scamped when someone
easily gestures toward replication via atom-by-atom scanning, or the AI
sophistication required to do the same job top-down.

Of course it might be that he and John and the rest of you have been down
these dialogical roads enough times already that it's only the newbie who
feels at a loss, seeing the torn rags of old battles brandished above the

Best to all, Damien

Dr Damien Broderick / Associate, Dept. English and Cultural Studies
University of Melbourne, Parkville 3052, AUSTRALIA