Re: Nanotech..Alternate Scenario

Matthew Gress (
Fri, 18 Jul 1997 17:21:00 -0500 (CDT)


em>Drexler's vision of nanotech involves self-replication in a big way.
em>Howeve Neil Stephenson (i think) in his book "Diamond Age" speaks of
em>"Sources" and "Matter Compilers"

hal>Yes, I think this is the right interpretation. I don't think the
hal>nanotech in the book is capable of self-replication. The reasons are
hal>not very clear, but perhaps it is in part due to some technical
hal>difficulty (hard to understand what, though), and in part it is pretty
hal>clear for political reasons.
hal>The Seed is self-replicating, able to grow
hal>using available environmental resources.

Anders Sandberg:
as>The problem is that to build a matter compiler you will likely need
as>self replication.
ca>Of course nanotechnology assemblers may require factory conditions. A
ca>replicator that can't work in the presence of oxygen or cosmic rays
ca>isn't going to gray goo this planet, but could be very handy in the
ca>appropriate factory.

as>Didn't Stephenson assume the assemblers only worked in a vacuum? It
as>is very probable that the first assemblers will need very special
as>environments to work well, and not unreasonable to think that the
as>cost of designing robust assemblers is higher than providing them
as>with their special environments (and as you point out, it provides a
as>safety measure and gives the manufacturers more control).
as>Anders Sandberg

em>Hell...most people don't even have a clear idea of what MONEY
em>try to imagine a culture that has no need for it? (James Hogan wrote a
em> novella that addressed that subject...don't recall the title...had
em>to do with interstellar colinization..via vat grown embryos under
em>computer control).

[Actually, I think that was Arthur Clarke, songs from Distant Earth - mwg]

em>The transition period is what's intriguing...anything beyond a few
em>years gets TOO fantastic.. but how will nanotech...cold
em>fusion...biotech...uploading...virtual and augmented reality be
em> the next few years? SOON

[The oft-mentioned singularity...]

What nobody mentioned is the most common reason for now worrying about the
Goo problem that the researchers always mention. That is FUEL. It was
tangentially touched upon above, but mostly couched in ideas of
environment. My favorite example is, to paraphrase Ralph Merkle
( A horse and a car are both means of
transportation, but you don't worry about you car going feral, running
away from the garage, and living on tree sap in the forest. Cars aren't
engineered to "live" without carefully refined fuel. Neither will
molecular robots or assemblers without a lot of deliberate work.
Certainly, our defenses will be up by the time that is feasible.
Although the organic quality of the creation of the "Seed" in the Diamond
Age is aesthetically intriguing.

Matthew Gress