RE: Nanotech Arms Race

Billy Brown (
Fri, 22 Jan 1999 09:54:05 -0600

Dan Clemmensen wrote:

> Your fundamental point is completely correct and we are in violent
> agreement: I feel that nanotech without SI is essentially impossible..
> please see:
> which I wrote in 1996..
> I thought that you had made an assumption of nanotech without SI..
> If you agree that nanotech->SI, then why discuss attack and defense?

Well, depends on what you mean by nanotech. I could see humans building an assembler, and using it to make diamondoid parts. With a large investment of engineering effort I could see using nanotech for drug manufacture, making novel materials, building computer chips and micromachines, and a lot of other useful stuff. If you posit some advances in automated engineering and non-sentient AI, I could even see some of the more advanced stuff being possible.

The big difference is that without SI, each individual thing you want to make is going to take a lot of human effort to design. A diamondoid shovel is no big deal, but a robot that builds nukes would take a multibillion-dollar research project. That's one of the more likely scenarios I see - a gradual transition from modern engineering limitations to genie machines, with design costs for advanced products falling from billions of dollars to nothing.

I would expect intelligence enhancement, uploading, sentient AI and cheap space travel to all be developed during this transition period. I also expect to see a lot of military nanotech - but it will be nanotech with a price tag, which makes it look more like an arms race than a sudden cataclysm.

Now, an obvious question is how long the transition will take. I can see arguments for anything from a few decades to a few minutes - it all depends on how hard AI and IE turn out to be, which isn't something we can predict in advance.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I