Re: Near-Term Scenarios -- Nanotech

GBurch1 (
Sun, 17 May 1998 17:09:47 EDT

[I'm writing today during breaks from the heat and Mexican smoke storm outside
as I continue to build the "mega-deck" in the back yard, so please excuse if
my coherence suffers as the day wears on . . .]

In a message dated 98-05-17 15:47:32 EDT, Dan Clemmensen wrote:

> OK, we appear to be in agreement about the following. Please correct
> this if my oversimplification has introduced errors.
> 1) we will be using nanotech to build simple stuff (i.e., most machine
> parts and
> components for buildings) well before 2015
> 2) we will not use nanotech to build complicated stuff (potatoes,
> beefsteak,
> "anything box") until we achieve a breakthough in control systems such
> as AI.

Very well summarized -- it's a pleasure doing business with you, sir.

> We appear to disagree on the boundary between "simple" and "complex".
> I place a desktop-sized supercomputer factory in the "simple" category.

I have to laugh at this -- only in Extropia could this comment be made so
casually. . . is this a great list or what? Seriously, I place it in the
"simple" category only IF the designs are available. Perhaps "simple" is
exactly the right word, but "widespread" is not. It depends on intellectual
property law and custom. If Intel and the other current manufacturers can
keep their designs protected, then it might be some while before it becomes
widespread. I suppose a cadre of "freeware" chip designers could break the
logjam here, but they'd have to be able to show they designed their chips from
scratch and didn't incorporate IP owned by the Big Boys. But the PRICE of
desktop-manufactured computers would definitely drop drastically, with many
concomitant effects.

> I can't tell for sure, but you seem to disagree? It would be fun to
> rank-order a set of parts or devices and see where each of us places
> the boundary. We could each place the rank-ordered devices on a timeline,
> except we both agree that a breakthrough is needed, more or less implying a
> bimodal distribution.

I may take a stab at this on my next break . . .

> I also believe that there is at least a chance that the availability of
> nanotech-built massively parallel supercomputers will enable a path to
> AI, which in turn could permit a nanotech control system that can enable
> us to build complicated stuff. You appear to think this unlikely?

Not necessarily unlikely, but definitely not certain. I agree that it will
make HARDWARE cheap and progress in hardware very fast. However, I don't see
the necessary link to the development of SOFTWARE. That's where the
disagreement is, I think.

> We also disagree on the rate of adoption of even the "simple stuff"
> technology. I feel that the rate will be very rapid, while you think
> it will take a decade. In essence, I feel that after the time that the
> first macro-scale part (brick, tennis racket handle, whatever) there will
> be no new orders for new non-nanotech capital equipment, and within a year
> most simple hard-good parts will be diamondoid.

I strongly disagree. Existing capital equipment won't disappear. To a great
extent, the existing physical plant at the time of "simple stuff nanotech"
represents sunk costs. Owners of those goods will continue to use them, but
at a developing competitive disadvantage. It won't make sense to replace the
entire manufacturing plant of the earth in a year. Capital equipment life
cycles WILL shorten and the old tools will be replaced with much more
efficient ones more quickly than they otherwise would have, due to the
financial incentive to "get with the program", but the old technology will
continue to be a drag for ten years, although less so toward the end,

> In the same time,
> nanocomputing
> will completely supercede microlithographic-based computing.

Yes -- chip manufacture will be effected most quickly, as the disincentive to
maintain old methods of production will be brutal.

Greg Burch <>----<>
Attorney ::: Director, Extropy Institute ::: Wilderness Guide -or-
"Good ideas are not adopted automatically. They must
be driven into practice with courageous impatience."