Re: No nanotech before AI

From: John Clark (
Date: Thu Jul 13 2000 - 22:38:39 MDT

Robin Hanson <> Wrote:

> It seems far from clear to me that it is trivial to take a design for a
> bridge, throw some nanodust at it and say "Build it for me over there."
> Assembly and construction use intelligence, just as design does.

About 5 years ago I listed 6 reasons why a macroscopic assembler, like a
person on a assembly line, was doing a far more difficult task that requires much
more brain power than a Nanotechnology assembler ever would. I still think it's true,
if it wasn't biology wouldn't exist.

1) The parts a macroscopic assembler uses would be very expensive, the parts
   that Nanotechnology uses, atoms, are very cheap.

2) A macroscopic assembler must use many thousands or millions of different
   types of parts and it must learn how to use all of them. At the most,
   Nanotechnology uses 92 different parts (the elements) but in the real
   world almost everything we know of is made of only about 20 parts, and for
   life about 10.

3) All the many different parts a macroscopic assembler must use are fragile,
   and fragile in different ways, the machine must learn the proper handling
   techniques for them all or it will destroy the parts before it can use
   them. There is no way you can damage the parts Nanotechnology deals with.

4) None of the parts in a macroscopic factory are absolutely identical.
   Despite our best efforts, individual variation still exists, and so we
   must deal with each part slightly differently and compensate for the
   variation in the assembly process if we want the finished product to work
   properly, that often takes intelligence. On the other hand, according to
   the laws of Physics one hydrogen atom is absolutely identical to another
   hydrogen atom and can be treated in exactly the same way. Atoms have no
   scratches on them to tell them apart.

5) Nanotechnology can manipulate matter without ever leaving the digital
   domain. You may have to deal with a rod 27 carbon atoms long, or 28 atoms
   long, but you never have to worry about a rod 27.5601334 atoms long.
   A Macro assembler wouldn't have that luxury when it tried to build
   something with an oak log.

6) Most of the parts a macroscopic assembler use would have to be very
   complex and the ways they interact with other macroscopic parts would be
   even more complex. Think of the windshield of a car, it interacts poorly
   with the engine block, and even with the windshield frame the interaction
   must be managed with great skill or you'll have a disaster. Nanotechnology
   is like building with Lego blocks, you can build structures of arbitrary
   complexity, yet there are only a few different types of blocks and they
   interact with other blocks (bounds) in only a few different ways.

            John K Clark

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