Re: true abundance?

Date: Tue Jan 30 2001 - 18:48:02 MST

To ground this discussion somewhat, we should recognize that there are
limits to what even nanotech can accomplish.

The magical build-anything genii machine is a highly advanced nanotech
device. Before that we will see machines that can build a wide variety
of things when given the proper raw materials. I imagine there will be
specialized factories that produce these raw materials in the form needed
by the assemblers, possibly using ordinary bulk chemical processing.
This more limited form of nanotech, while it will hopefully greatly
reduce the cost of manufactured products, will not necessarily make it
possible for every person in the third world to be rich.

Even once we have a genii machine that can work with dirt or even rock,
you still obviously need sources of dirt and rocks. If land becomes
the ultimate resource it may become highly valuable, and peasants may
not be able to afford land.

And there are still constraints imposed by energy limits. The genii
machine can be powered by solar energy, but solar collectors will need
to be large in order to allow for substantial manufacturing effort, which
again means you need a lot of land. And besides collecting energy, there
is the problem of disposing of it. Last year Robert Bradbury described
some calculations of Robert Freitas which indicated that seemingly modest
levels of nanotech manufacturing, if carried on by every person on earth,
could upset the heat balance of the entire planet.

Even in a world with genii machines, there will probably be great
differences in wealth, which means that there will still be ways to
transfer wealth and to hire people. The human struggle will not end,
though the rising tide has lifted all our boats to levels beyond our
present dreams. We will still face problems of envy and jealousy and
desire; there will still be violence and theft. The poor peasants on
their homesteads must be able to defend their property if they wish to
keep it, and that won't be easy if those who want to take it away are
vastly more wealthy and powerful.

For these reasons and others, it is probably not realistic to imagine
that nanotech will automatically create abundance for all. Undoubtedly
it will create great wealth, but the question of how that wealth ends
up being distributed will depend on how political and economic factors
play out over the next decades.


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