RE: Major Technologies

Billy Brown (
Wed, 6 Jan 1999 09:04:57 -0600

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> With all due respect to the people at Foresight, active shields are a
> pipe dream. I don't dispute that they might be able to defend against
> malfunctioning assemblers, but military red goo will win every single
> time. The only halfway sane analysis I've seen is "Nanotechnology and
> International Security", which lists many of the major destabilizing
> factors. Nanotech is far more destructive than nuclear
> weapons, can be
> developed with less of a visible lead time, has better first-strike
> capability, and larger benefits for use. MAD won't work. Threatened
> nuclear powers may decide to strike first. So the world will
> blow up.
> This is the logical consequence..

Ah. I thought you meant accidental grey goo. Military action is indeed another matter, and analysis on the subject tends to be pretty naive.

<putting on military theorist hat>

I see two very different scenarios, depending on how fast the takeoff turns out to be:

If we solve the automated engineering problem well in advance of the creation of the first assembler, then whoever first turns nanotech to military use instantly becomes the world's dominant military power. They will probably have a few weeks of lead time, and that's long enough to achieve such overwhelming dominance that the second nanotech power would be hopelessly outmatched. Unfortunately, given the memes currently dominant in the scientific community, it is unlikely that they will act so decisively. The likely result is a very short arms race followed by a nanotech war - probably the only survivors would be some military personal and leaders on the 'winning' side. Of course, they would have the tools to reconstruct civilization..

If primitive nanotech and automated engineering emerge at the same time, we're in much better shape. There will be time for the political structure to adjust to the new rules, which lowers the probability of stupid panic reactions. There is a good chance of avoiding nano-war on this track, because the nations most likely to get there first aren't interested in either suicide or world conquest.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I