Goo prophylaxis

Carl Feynman (
Wed, 27 Aug 1997 10:41:14 -0400

At 03:58 PM 8/26/97 +0000, Nicholas Bostrom wrote:
> Hal Finney <> wrote:
>> My prediction would be a band of "war zones"...
>My intuitions are exactly the opposite. Your prediction seems to
>presuppose that the first nanopower won't obtain world dominion, an
>assumption I find very dubious.

There are already nanopowers.

The standard scenario of the advent of nanotech is that someone will, in a
very brief time, go from where we are now to diamondoid nanotech. If a
human immune system or army tried to fight off a diamondoid aggressor, it
would be like a bear trying to fight a helicopter gunship. Hence, the 'gray
goo problem'. However, I think the standard scenario is wrong.

Consider a spectrum of nanotechnologies. At one end is life, at the other
end is diamondoid nanotech. Our present-day nanotechnology, called 'life',
is energy-efficient, sloppy, abundant, hard to reprogram, slow to reproduce
and physically weak and vulnerable. Diamondoid nanotech consumes lots of
energy, can be extremely precise, does not yet exist, is easy to reprogram,
is quick to reproduce, and is physically strong and tough. I doubt that
engineering will suddenly leap from one end of the scale to another. All
the plans I've seen and heard for getting to the first assembler produce an
assembler that is far from diamondoid. The hope is to use that to produce a
slightly better assembler, which will be used to produce the next
generation, et cetera.

Just as Drexlerian nanotech is made of diamondoid material, we can think of
life as being made of 'nylonoid' material. Protein is chemically similar to
nylon, and about the same strength and stiffness. The stiffer the basic
material of which the nanotech is made, the more precise an assembler can
be, and the more tightly bonded the materials it can assemble. More tightly
bonded materials are stiffer, so it takes a stiff assember to make a stiffer
assembler. So we can imagine bootstrapping from present-day materials to
the ultimate:

Nylonoid assembles Kevlaroid.
Kevlaroid assembles quartzoid.
Quartzoid assembles sapphireoid.
Sapphireoid assembles diamondoid.

Each of these stages is very valuable in its own right, and will open up a
range of new possibilities. And each of them will require thousands of
genius-years to bootstrap to the next level. Nobody will get from the first
to the last level alone and in secret. By the time someone develops
diamondoid weapons, the world will have years of experience in fighting with
weapons made out of kevlaroid, quartzoid and sapphireoid.


PS. Kevlaroid = amide-bonded unbranched polymers with only one degree of
freedom instead of the two that proteins have. Quartzoid = strongly
cross-linked ceramics assembled in solution from metal oxide moeities (SiO4,
MgO2, etc) and hydroxyl and organic side-chains. Sapphireoid = the same,
but assembled in vacuum, mostly AlO3 moeities, and no organics.