RE: the economics of transition to nanotech

From: Ramez Naam (
Date: Tue Jan 11 2000 - 10:38:09 MST

> From: Robert Bradbury []

> 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 as the pivotal
> > resource.
> Yes and no. There are very subtle forces at work.

To be clear, the question I'm trying to answer is the effect of MNT on the
structure of the economy, rather than on the total size or affluence of the
economy. E.g., will nanotech eliminate work? Will it eliminate the market?
Will it eliminate the notion of property?

In this regard, some germane facts about nanotech would seem to be:

1) It will take large amounts of intellectual work (whether supplied by
humans or other agents) to create, debug, and verify nanotech designs.

2) This intellectual work, at least at the early stages, will require a
large financial investment (to pay the humans doing the work).

3) Those who put in this investment are likely to want to reap a profit by

4) Nanotech designs themselves are merely information. Like software (or
pharmaceuticals) nanotech-created objects will have a high R & D cost and a
low unit cost. It will also be possible to copy, transmit, and pirate
nanotech designs.

The combination of the above elements suggests to me that:

a) Stakeholders in nanotech will seek to preserve existing intellectual
property laws in order to protect their profits.

b) The elimination of those intellectual property laws might be detrimental
to the advancement of nanotech (since it might discourage investment in
developing nano designs).

c) So long as intellectual work from truly intentional agents is required to
design nano, those agents will seek compensation, and we're likely to remain
in an market-based economy.

Now, I'm not a specialist in this area, but I'd guess that there are
academic papers that cover issues like b) and c) in the abstract or in other
domains. For example, papers on the impact of patent law and software
copyrights. Or papers (possibly just being authored now) on open-source
development or freeware.


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