RE: Major Technologies

Billy Brown (
Fri, 8 Jan 1999 14:50:08 -0600

Anders Sandberg wrote:
> The danger zone begins here. Note how the internet causes panic
> reactions in society? And it still grows over the span of *years*. I
> think the timescale society manages to adapt lies on the order of half
> a decade, maybe a decade (with variations for culture, neophilia,
> planning etc), and faster growth causes irrational reactions -
> including positive reactions like hype and a naive embrace of
> the new.

We could burn a lot of electrons arguing about where the borders of the danger zone fall - that's why I didn't offer any numbers. IMO, we actually have a zone of steadily increasing danger as the rate of change increases. Right now society doesn't have time to fully adjust to new developments, but we at least have time to wonder what to do about them. More importantly, there is time for the feedback mechanisms of free markets and various social institutions to have some effect on the course of events. The faster the rate of change, the less chance there is for such forces to operate, and the more unstable things become.

> I don't think there is an upper end to the danger zone, simply because
> I regard the "...and then the owners of the technology take over the
> world" solution only work if they are *far* ahead of everyone.

I agree. However, you can generate a scenario where that would happen if you mix the right assumptions together. What we need is:

  1. automated engineering is very easy
  2. nanotech design is manageable
  3. computers are very fast
  4. nanotech is very hard to actually implement for some reason

That creates a situation where you have designs for very advanced devices that no one can build. The first group to get an assembler can use it to implement those designs, giving them a huge instant jump in power. Ordinarily we would expect other groups to duplicate the feat and catch up, but nanotech also lets you make faster computers. So, the leading power whips up a huge mob of supercomputers and sets them to work designing even better hardware. Their computers will be on a faster improvement curve than anyone else's, so no one can catch up until they hit the limits of what is possible.

Now, I don't think that could actually happen, but that's because I think assumptions are contradictory. You can't get computers fast enough to design smart matter and utility fog unless you are already using less advanced nanotech to build them. I also don't think you can design computers more than a few generations in advance of the ones you already have, for essentially the same reason.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I