Re: Nanotech Scenarios

Raymond G. Van De Walker (
Sat, 5 Jun 1999 04:41:43 PDT

On Sun, 30 May 1999 17:12:58 GMT "Chandra Patel" <> writes:
>How will the announcement of the development of a fully functional
>assembler affect the world?

Announcement will have little effect. In the longest term:

  1. Societies' political arrangements are utlimately are shaped by their weaponry. Nanotechnology will make very large lasers (coherent ultra-short-wave electromagnetic weapons) possible. I believe that they are inevitable because force majeure triumphs, and so does speed of deployment, and large lasers are the end-point of both trends. Gray-goo and nuclear wepons are great, but they have to be delivered, and the laser can prevent that better than any other option I've seen examined. Laser fortresses will use some kind of beam-powered aircraft to carry mirrors, to make laser artillery effective. Typical large jets generate less than 20MW thermal, so mirror-vehicles seem very possible. They would not carry fuel, so their performance should be high.
  2. Large lasers will be stationary installations, fortresses, rather than mobile weapons. This makes cooling from rivers, lakes or the ocean cheaper, or possible, and permits use of gas-phase magneto-hydrodynamic reactors, a logical power source because it is both mechanically simple, and capable of large surge powers.
  3. Such a laser fortress will be able to trump any mobile technology, including conventional infantry, because it will be able to attack massed formations in detail, at higher speeds than any mechanism can evade. SInce it will have cooling from rivers or lakes, it can better withstand any bombardment than a mobile weapon.
  4. The man that owns a laser fortress will be sovereign: No one could displace him, and no-one could successfully attack his fortress, except possibly by saturating his defences (a nasty scenario for an attacker).
  5. There will, therefore be an eventual return to feudalism, that ism the guy that owns the laser fort will collect taxes, and the economy will be based on information, rather than agriculture.

Almost immediately, we will have disassemblers, because Drexler wrote about them, and scientists will compete to build them.

Therefore, in 10 years, we will be able to buil dreplacements for body parts.

I also expect human neural prosthesis about MNT+10. This _is_ a big deal, because if the prosthesis can b emade to work better, the Singularity will occur.

Counteracting the feudalism, at MNT+20 there will be several designs for cheap

On the home front,
I expect tremendous decentralization of society.

I expect some organization to develop resource extraction and food assembly products. The U.S. Army might do this, to solve logistic problems. WHO might do this to solve hunger. When the technology is releaseed, people will become self-sufficient in ood, in the city.

Solar Power-collection pavement and roofing will be developed or perfected.
Chemical energy storage will be perfected. Result:
Central power plants will be downsized and not replaced. Fuel-cell vehicles will become commonplace.

Natural foods will become extremely expensive luxuries.

>Here's a bunch of questions I'm currently wrestling with:
>Will the widespread hype begin before or after the development of an
>Assembler? Will the public be informed about the capabilities of an
>Assembler prior to its development or only afterwards?
Yes. It's already happened.

>Who has the best chance of developing the first Assembler? the U.S.
>government? another government? coalitions? corporations?
>conglomerates? the nanotech Galileo tinkering in vis lab?
I look for a small high-tech company to do it first. This is what the seed-money VCs think, and they're not people to bet against. Zyvex is in development now.

>How will the nature of the first developer affect how events progress
>in the MNT+x era?
Not much. If they're smart, they'll license the tech. as widely as possible
at a very cheap price to saturate the market before competitors get in. If they're dumb (say they're the government), the smart people will have a competing product in a few months, anyway. Drexler's projection of a singularity depends on very high machine intelligence,
whcih is not a proven possibility, and which will be a later-breaking development, if it occurs at all.

> Will it matter who the first developer is because
>governments will seize the technology?
In the U.S., and EU gov. will not seize the technology. It may be licensed, but that is a completely different thing, more akin to the safety laws for nuclear reactor, or medical equipment development. If a gov. does seize the tech, that gov will lose the race, or else spend huge amounts
on a manhattan-style project.

>Will the financial markets act similar to Hanson's idea futures market
>and begin factoring in the eminent development of the Assembler into its

>valuations? This assumes that the finance types identify what affects
>suchan event would have on valuations.
No. Capital valuations will not change until there are real financial effects from market displacements caused by nanotechnic substitutes.

>What will the economic impact be?
1. Commodity prices of industrial materials will fall sharply, especially for
things that can be built from locally-extracted resources. 2. Trace elements (Fluorine, Boron, Chlorine, etc.) will increase in value, briefly,
and then fall as resource extraction improves for trace minerals.

3. Capital-intensive resource extraction industries will fail.
4. Heavy equipment makers will be troubled, or fail.
5. Some machine-tool makers will successfully transition to market niches
involving molecular manufacturing.
6. A large new class of pure engineering companies will arise, to provide the bits to pattern products produced by molecular manufacturing.

> Will pre-MNT capital lose all its value?

1. Machine tools and factories will become irrelevant.
2. Human capital and information will continue to grow in importance.
3. Numerous companies will make the transition, whcih is already
because the software content of so many products and services is already so high.

>What will be the commodity of the post-MNT era? The most obvious
>answer is 'the ability to make Assemblers.
I think bits will be the major commodity. Assemblers and raw materials will continue to be commodities. However local resource extraction and manufacuring will make physical plant so inexpensive that it will be built and recycled as needed.

. But what about creativity, Assembler
>software, Assembler software debugging software, easily mutable
>heat dissipation technology, etc.?
There will be no end to the gadgets.
The crucial gadget is going to be synthetic land, possibly created in international waters.

>Should Assembler software be open source?
It can't be, because all existing safety-critical software is developed using the the cathedral model. The Gov. believes that the control is essential to _predicting_ the quality.

>Does it matter if Assembler software is efficient?
Doesn't matter.

? What weight should be given to the 'crazy screw
>with a problem' factor where the screw decides to implement some "goo"
The governments will develop obvious countermeasures to gray goo, like inert paints (gray goo has to get its energy either from the sun, or from
the chemistry of the surface of the structures it attacks), and shade traps.
I expect a hierarchy of defenses against self-replicating weapons, from tiny, all they way up to battleship size.

>What would be the motivation of a 'crazy screw' since many ailments
>that drive 'fanatics' will be remedied or have the potential to be
>with MNT?

Who knows? Boredom?

>What is the future of governments in the MNT+x era?
See above.

>What platform is MNT/OS likely to be based upon?
I think linux.
>Chandra Patel
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