Re: Design-ahead (was: Re: the economics of transition to nanotech)

From: Robert Bradbury (
Date: Wed Jan 12 2000 - 09:22:27 MST

On Wed, 12 Jan 2000, Damien Broderick wrote:

> At 03:51 PM 11/01/00 -0500, Joseph Sterlynne <>
> wrote:
> >So we must ask now:
> >
> >- How do we begin serious design-ahead now?
> >- How do we encourage development (on an open-source basis)?
> >- How do we guide and organize the design-ahead results? (Ad-hoc
> > organization, Web site, institute?)

Well, my strategy as I think some of you can tell is Nano@home.
And the next time I get Neil Jacobstein for a long enough face-to-face
conversation, I'm going to push on him very hard to consider having
IMM/Foresight support this. A couple of more papers on my part
or Anders part re: nanotech enabled SIs and the impact on the
entire SETI frame of reference and we should be able to take a
crack at creating some "cognitive dissonance" amongst the rather
large, "fairly" technical SETI@home collective. If we can switch
even a reasonable subset of this to Nano@home {since it is probable
nanotech enables rapid colonization, high power budgets, ubiquitous
surveilance, etc. -- if they wanted to "talk" to us, they easily
could, they aren't, so there must be a reason for that and the best
way to confirm they aren't here or out "there" (meaning intelligent
life is *very* hard) is to have nanotech, so we might as well get there
as soon as possible and stop playing around with "listening" for
sub-nano-tech civilizations...}

Now, if we switch enough people, we have the largest supercomputer in the
world working on nanotech designs. Then we have this huge debate about
whether private designs first to build up a capital base or open designs to
build up a comfortable level of security is the best approach. In all
probability, different people accept different sides of the argument,
so we probably get both (as you see now in the biotech approach to
the Human Genome Project).

It doesn't make sense to push it too hard right now because we first
need a software package, and second need some more "popular" literature.
So Damien's book getting published in the U.S. may be an added selling

> Well, of course, Drexler and Merkle and others at Foresight have been doing
> this, bit by bit, for years. The odd thing is the way their efforts still
> appear to be despised by those in the `regular' or canonical-science/tech
> authorised nano community. One scientist who read THE SPIKE declared flatly
> that Eric was a flake (he'd seen him talking at a Foresight conference),

>From the perspective of scientific "convention", Eric is a flake (I mean that
in a very complementary way). So what? That doesn't affect his science.
He has thought the ideas through much further than anyone. Everyone else
is doing 5-10 years of catch-up. Most scientists, if they have a clue
of Eric's range are probably green with envy. There is also the fact
that Eric generally refuses to play the games (teach or play popular
grantmanship), that most scientists agree to play to do what interests them
(research). [Caveats -- I think teaching is a noble profession and
grantmanship is a good natural selection process when it is working well.]
For many "typical" researchers, Eric holds up the principle of questioning
themselves about the compromises they make and that isn't a pretty picture.

> and that my book should have extirpated all reference to Foresight and
> dealt solely with, you know, scanning microscopes and buckytube tips and
> like that. *Real* science.

The Spike isn't about "real" science (as the other Nanotechnology book
you recently mentioned, or Nanomedicine, or Nanosystems). Its about
communicating and understanding the possible impacts of probable science.
And in that respect it is much more important.

> Even though Drexler and pals were there years in
> advance of these recent discoveries; even though their projections and
> design-aheads seem (to me, in my comparative ignorance) fully consistent
> with what's coming out of the labs. Maybe it's priority envy. Maybe it's
> green monkeys again.

Three design-aheads isn't a lot in my opinion. I often wonder why we
don't have a complete atomic resolution design of Eric's protoptype
nanoassembler. I think it comes down to a shift in interests from
nanodesign to consequences. Eric has also pointed out the need to
step back from the field to allow others to fill the void (because if
you really understand Eric's capacity, you wouldn't go near a field
he was "occupying"). You are probably correct about the envy aspects.
Even now, you can only look at a few of the top places -- CalTech,
MIT, Harvard, Rice, IBM, etc., where the very brightest people work, as
beginning to lay the foundations for this field.


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