RE: Nanotech Arms Race

Billy Brown (
Mon, 25 Jan 1999 18:32:20 -0600

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky wrote:
> My suggestion for inertial confinement fusion wasn't intended as a
> "nanofusion" power source, but as a method of constructing fusion
> weapons without carrying around a lot of uranium. I specifically
> originated the suggestion when someone purported to prove that
> nanotechnological attacks would be less powerful than modern weaponry,
> which is absurd.

Agreed. Intelligently applied, it has huge destructive potential.

> I also wanted to demonstrate that war nano can easily use nuclear
> weapons against an "active shield", as part of my generalized thesis
> that nanowar tilts the attack/defense balance even farther towards
> attack than the existing nuclear weapons standoff.

Well, obviously we will still have nukes, and I imagine we'll be able to make them a bit smaller than we can now. I'm not sure why we are focusing so much on nanobots, however - IMO, systems of cheap robotics with widely varying scales are far more effective than swarms of nanobots.

> If I really wanted to be speculative, with respect to "nanofusion", I
> would ask why you couldn't focus nuclear reactions so as to catch
> individual neutrons, or perhaps arrange materials so that a solid
> barrier of neutron-catchers existed instead of a haphazard
> crystal. I'd expect nuclear reactions to be considerably more efficient
> once we start working close to that scale.

I assume that by now you've read my post about the basic obstacles here. Nanotech really doesn't do anything to address these problems, because it is still based on normal matter and it only works at the level of chemistry. The opacity of matter to neutrons is not affected by chemistry - it is purely a matter of how many atomic nuclei you can pack into a given volume. Absorbing hard radiation is a similar issue, and of course we can't change the behavior of the nuclei themselves.

Now, I wouldn't be surprised if someone was able to make a 1 kg nuke using nanotech. Making a 1 mg nuke would require a more fundamental technology - it belongs in the same realm as FTL drives, neutronium armor, and time machines.

BTW - That doesn't mean I dismiss any of those things as fantasy. I just don't expect to see any of them before the emergence of SI.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I