Re: Nanotech: Open Source or Proprietary

From: Charlie Stross (
Date: Wed Jul 12 2000 - 08:02:56 MDT

On Tue, Jul 11, 2000 at 05:29:49PM -0400, Robin Hanson wrote:
> Yes, the big impact of nanotech on the economy that I can forsee
> is to make most consumer products more like software, music, movies,
> drugs, airlines, and education are now: full of complex price discrimination.

I think you underestimate the significance of the software model. By
the time we have nanotech, the lesson of open source will have sunk in;
we can't assume that, just because physical products are replicatable the
way software is, that the development of nanotech-mediated manufacturing
will resemble today's software industry.

Example: France, Germany, China, are beginning to to move -- at a
governmental level -- to push proprietary software out of government
offices and publicy-owned enterprises; they're switching to open source
software or open standards instead. They're doing this not because
they're necessarily anti-business, but because they view software as
strategic infrastructure, and they don't want to be held to ransom by
foreign corporations. (Who might, for example, triple their royalty
charges without notice, or discontinue support for a critical piece of
equipment -- and who cannot be held to account. The hope is that even
if the developers of an open source package go nuts, they won't be able
to stop the government from continuing to pay for maintainance, _or_
force them to upgrade every computer they own to run Windows 2000 even
though there's no requirement for its additional features.)

Anyway ...

What if a currently socialist (and I mean _moderate_ socialist -- national
healthcare and insurance and high income tax democracy -- rather than
totalitarian) government decides that access to food, basic manufactured
goods, and so on for all their citizens is a similar strategic necessity?
In past times they'd have had to steal such resources from other people,
but with nanotech replicators they can let the good times roll, up to a
point. To do this, all they need to do is give cash donations to some
nanotech equivalent of the Free Software Foundation, with a remit to
design templates for all the necessities of life. Want a new Ford? Ford
want $10K off you -- but the Free Hardware Foundation GNU Automobile
project is being developed essentially for free, they've got big donations
from several smallish countries who don't _like_ seeing their foreign
exchange vanishing into the pockets of Ford's US shareholders, and you can
have a GNU Automobile for the cost of materials and energy -- under $1K.

This suggests to me that a nanotech system could allow currently
backward countries -- albeit with some infrastructure; I'm thinking of
poorer parts of eastern Europe or South America rather than Africa --
to catch up to current Western standards of living extremely rapidly,
and in a way that makes socialism popular among their citizens.

-- Charlie "tweaking the extropian tail" Stross

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