Re: Nanotech..Alternate Scenario

Anders Sandberg (
Tue, 15 Jul 1997 11:33:16 +0200 (MET DST)

On Mon, 14 Jul 1997 wrote:

> In a message dated 97-07-14 05:45:12 EDT, you write:
> << but it is clear that in order to get a
> widely usable, cheap nanotechnology you need replicating assemblers
> if only in the factory. >>
> Several things come to mind:
> In "Queen Of Angels" nanotechnology was NOT cheap.

Yes, but I doubt it would be in real life (after the initial stage of
being tended by people in white coats). See Drexler's EoC.

[Aside: Greg Bear likely made it expensive to tone it down in his
story (which wasn't about nanotech) - cheap, ubiquitious nanotech
changes things too much, and most authors realize they cannot handle
all the implications. Linda Nagata and Neal Stephenson are so far the
only authors I have read who have tried to explore the possibilities.
I have myself limited nanotech in a science fiction game I'm working
on just to keep the setting somewhat familiar. ]

> By self-replicating the "flavor" of the term was (to me) in the biological
> sense. Like bacteria eating all the food available. Not in the industrial
> sense like the automovile industry (for example) replicating factories first
> in order to "birth" automobiles.

Yes, but is there a difference between an insect making new insects
and a factory complex building more factory complexes (remember the
NASA plans for replicating moon factories).

To get nanotech of the ground you need to be able to build
nanodevices cheaply - if every assembler has to be built "by hand" by
a STM they will be astronomically expensive and inconvenient. But if
you have *one* assembler, you could use it to build another
assembler. Now you have two... soon you can have as many assemblers
as you want, and nanotech production becomes reasonable.

> The matter compiler (santa claus box...assembler field) is intrigueing to
> somehow seems to offer greater controll..less danger...Mataglap
> Nano is pretty scary.

I wouldn't fear the Goo That Ate The Earth, it is somewhat unlikely
(it needs energy to convert stuff into itself, limiting its speed a
lot; I'm not sure biomass or diamondoid is the most energetic, but we
only have around 1 kW/m^2 of sunlight). What is more dangerous is The
Little Nanite Who Could - imagine an escaped medical nanite killing
certain kinds of bacteria rather efficiently, spreading out of
control. It might destroy our ecosystem without us noticing until it
was too late.

The Matter Compiler will not prevent the creation of goo or dangerous
nano, but it will provide a good consumer interface for the products
of nanotechnology. After all, most computer users never write
programs, they just download them from the net or buy them in a
store. The real danger comes from the programmers, who might write
viruses or make mistakes that crash your hard drive or ecosystem.

> But what about a variation on the Penning Trap?...In a zero-g enviroment
> could not atoms be positioned appropriately via laser beams?...Wouldn't this
> be much easier to build than the other varients?

No, since you need to keep both the building blocks and the object
under construction floating together. So when you try to push an atom
in place, the laser will also push at the object; it *might* be
possible to solve the control problem, but I doubt it. This method
doesn't seem to work well for massive structures, only individual
atoms, molecules or optical crystals.

Anders Sandberg Towards Ascension!
GCS/M/S/O d++ -p+ c++++ !l u+ e++ m++ s+/+ n--- h+/* f+ g+ w++ t+ r+ !y