RE: the economics of transition to nanotech

From: Robert Bradbury (
Date: Tue Jan 11 2000 - 08:14:40 MST

On Sun, 9 Jan 2000, Ramez Naam wrote:

> Ahh, I can't help you with that, but I'd suggest that the major economic
> issue at play here is a furthering shift in the economy towards information
> (in this case, the software that drives MNT) as the pivotal resource.

Yes and no. There are very subtle forces at work. Software (and petaflops
computing) drive the simulations to know the designs work. They also drive
the "HAD" (human aided design). Auto-ComputerDesign requires very new software
(see my Nano@home suggestions).

But, we now have designs that have been simulated and we believe would work
(from Inst. for Molecular Manufacturing). The best we can do at this point
is "play" with the molecules nature has handed us. So, a molecular assembler,
is critical. The breaktrough in '99 was molecular nano-chemistry. What
we need next is demonstrable, marketable parallel AFMs.

Now, on the biotech front, we are going to have progammable, self-replicating
machines *very* soon (1-3 years). The only problem will be they will not
be "general purpose". They will only be able to do things substantively
similar to those already done. That pretty much confines you to chemical
factories or energy conversion. Building macro-scale things in a robust
way (think programmable trees/bones/sea shells for "houses"), is going to
take much longer (10-15 years).

> I'd guess that the ramifications of this shift have been examined ad nauseum
> in academic papers.

Nope, academia unfortunately tends to narrow ones perspective. I can
only think of three relatively polymathic people (Robin Hanson, Robert
Freitas and Eric, with perhaps Ralph & Josh close behind) who understand
the technology sufficiently and have enough background in other areas
to begin to wrestle with the trends and tradeoffs in detail. People
like Moravec, Kurzweil and Minsky have made contributions, but they
don't really understand the trends in biotech & health sufficiently
because of their specializations. Michio Kaku is one of the best
"futurists" around, in terms of his technical competence and general
grasp of trends, but even he doesn't "grok" nanotech and much of biotech.

Other than that, Damien and the authors of the Cyberhumanity book are on
the cutting edge. They are creating mounds of work for the academics
who will spend years sorting this all out.

Damien wrote:
> > some urls to papers (like those of ESR on open source software) that
> > explicitly and professionally analyzed the topic. I don't know of any,
> > aside from some elaborate plans for paths to AI (rather than nano) in
> > various of Eli's sub-sites, and comments by Robin Hanson on the
> > economics of unlimited uploading, and like that. Maybe it hasn't been
> > done yet.

As far as I know, you are correct.

> > I'd have expected the Foresight folks to have a batch of documents on this
> > topic, though (but I haven't fallen over any of them yet).
My general impression is that Foresight to date has focused most of its
energy on surviving and recruiting a foundational support group. We still
have quite a ways to go before we can produce the resources to look at
these things in detail. There is still quite a bit of effort going into
discovering the best way to share the knowledge required to begin to discuss
these trends in detail (witness the exploration of the Group Genius weekends).

However, a focus discussion of the multiple paths for an afternoon might be
a very useful topic for Extro5.

How about:
  Extro5: Riding the Wave..
  Extro5: Shooting the Rapids...
  Extro5: What to do when your bungee cord snaps....


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