Re: Nanotech Scenarios

Raymond G. Van De Walker (
Sat, 5 Jun 1999 14:30:19 PDT

My own guesses, for fun and comment:

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

It will be a science article. Ordinary people will say, "Think of that!"

and forget about it. Investors will start scheming. Forward-looking investors will take their pre-existing intellectual property (designed ahead, in anticipation of the assembler) and start selling it. It's obvious who will profit.

>What about the impact over time?

I expect weaponry to change radically, and therefore the most practical form of government will shift, almost certainly away from liberal democracies,
to my distaste.

@MNT+1, we'll have prototypes of improved assemblers, computers, resource extraction equipment (mining, water-purification and solar cells),
fractal robots, extremely strong materials (diamondoid nuts and bolts and cables) and disassemblers, i.e. small devices that take things apart to record the structure. These are all being designed-ahead by respectable research groups, and will thus appear very quickly. Buy stock.

@MNT+5, the above products will be for sale. 2nd-order technologies will be in design: spacecraft, personal aircraft, advanced medical tech, etc. Begin selling stock and buying bonds.

@MNT+10. I expect us to have radically improved medical technologies, cheap space travel, some food synthesis, incredibly improved fuel cells and batteries, personal aircraft will be available, but limited by the pilot-licensing laws,
possibly we'll have ufog or soemthing like it, and a severe economic recession as molecular manufacturing displaces other modes of production.
Sell bonds and buy bargain stocks in intellectual property corps.

At some point I expect someone, probably a military organization, to develop a portable combination of resource extraction and manufacturing.
The military could use this to end logistical problems, and it would then inevitably be taken home by soldiers to their impoverished relatives. This would end centralized production of commodities, and severely disrupt
the world economy. A gift economy is the most likely replacement, with strong property rights for proprietary information such as entertainment. The internet will be adapted to provide information services to this gift economy.

A weakness is that if the military develops this, they will include means to deny service (to prevent giving aid to an enemy). These could be used to control society.

@MNT+20 I expect brain prostheses to be in use, developed over an entire career
using radically large computers and disassemblers. They will be limited to
medical interventions, and possibly, if we start lobbying now, death will be
considered a medically-treatable condition.

@MNT+30, personal aircraft will be cheap, and the computer as such will disappear from our lives. We'll still have computers, but they will be embedded in telephones, paper, watches, dolls, etc. Hold stock.

>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?

Before- it's already happened. That' swhy you wrote.

>Who has the best chance of developing the first Assembler?

The seed venture capitalists are gambling on a small high-tech company. It would be foolish to bet against them. See why, below.

>How will the nature of the first developer affect how events progress
>in the MNT+x era? Will it matter who the first developer is because
>governments will seize the technology?

The first developer should license the technology cheaply and _very_ widely, to ensure adoption of _their_ approach, and buy-in for their software environment.
If they try to keep it secret, or expensive, some high-tech firm will just do the wide licensing instead, and the secretive group's approach will become an irrelevant lost opportunity.

In the US and EU, the government will _not_ seize the technology, because this is a clear violation of civil liberties. However, restrictive safety
licensing is very likely, something like how the governments regulate civilian nuclear reactors or infective disease laboratories, or medical equipment.

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


No, they'll do nothing until the financial effects of nanotechnic substitutes hit.
Extropians are _well_ ahead of the game, as well as investing for a different length of time.

>What will the economic impact be? Will pre-MNT capital lose all its

There will be initial growth (buy stocks, then slowly convert to bonds of two product cycls, 7 years), followed by disruptions (buy bargain stocks) Capital will shift to information, and human capital: Organizations will still be capable of doing valuable things that individuals can't do, therefore joint stock companies will still exist.

>Should Assembler software be open source?

Nanotech software is likely to be licensed for safety. I don't know how the
government would license "open source." Traditionally, the gov. has blessed
"cathedral" development. However the "bazaar" development could be justified as a "public comment opportunity, more conducive to the public good."

> Does it matter if Assembler software is efficient?

Not at first. Later it will make fortunes. People always value time.

> What weight should be given to the 'crazy screw with
>a problem' factor where the screw decides to implement some "goo"

Defense organizations are in the forefront of molecular manufacturing. this is properly their concern, but as an engineer I have some idea as to how the weapons will develop:

I think that weapons will converge on some sort of ultra-high-energy electromagnetic weapon analogous to huge lasers. This is the end-point of both speed of deployment and fire-power. nanotech can handle the nanoelectronic circuits to make the emissions efficient. These weapons will fire around corners with
beam-powered aircraft that carry mirrors.

I think gray-goo is a non-starter, easy to counter with chemically passivated
paints and shade traps, because if it can't get energy, it can't grow.

The larger nanotechnic weapons will be developed to counter the smaller, as wet-navy destroyers were developed to counter torpedo boats.

Self-reproducing weapons will therefore come in all sizes, from gray-goo up to automated battleships and aircraft. The stationary laser will be king because it
will have the greatest firepower and fastest response to take out medium and large mechanized weapons.

>What would be the motivation of a 'crazy screw'
[<snip> who was medically adjusted to be sane]

Greed Morals aren't medically enforced (at least -yet-)

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

I expect an empire to form, using the wealth accumulated by the liberal republics to form a very large, cohesive social structure.

Quite possibly, it will use medical nanotechnology for social control, possibly through direct intervention in brains.

Empires are the historic climax of every large economic growth I know of in history: chinese, sumerian, roman, etc: liberal states form first, and then neglect defense, followed by a unified large government with pragmatically liberal policies. The unification wars will be the big upset of the next century, I think.

The US will _not_ be the nucleus of the government, because we're trained to "mind our own business" at our mother's knee. and our territorial ambitions are completed.
We control both sea-coasts of our continent, and both of the oceans adjoining the sea-coasts. It's enough so we don't fret.

I expect the US to be to the new empire as the Greeks were to the Romans: The Roman world spoke Greek in the marketplace, and used Greek religions, technologies and philosophy, while the Romans owned and administered everything. My best candidate for the future empire is China, with India or Russia as other possibilities, if China is too xenophobic. Japan _is_ too xenophobic: they traditionally just kill foreigners, never thinking to recruit the best of them as equal citizens.

>What platform is MNT/OS likely to be based upon?

An OS is just a library of reusable code. Because of the diversity of MNT apps, no common library will occur, and thus no
OS will dominate. E.g. What OS is in my car? Do I care? Over 70% of embedded systems (software that controls machinery) are programmed "barefoot" with no OS. Speaking as a professional embedded systems programmer, I can explain that this is because embedded systems usually have unique I/O devices that are poorly served by conventional operating systems. Usually conventional operating systems provide something like 15,000 to 2e6 lines of general-purpose code, most of which are waste (uneconomic) to the embedded mission. The 2,000 to 8,000 lines of code that are relevant (utility libraries, file systems, network protocols) can best be purchased as portable sets of source code.

Also, commercial OS's have poor safety records (some do well, but most are poor).
People don't like it when their phones are silent, or their cars turn off because of software.

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