NANO: Space phase (WAS: Goo prophylaxis)

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Fri, 29 Aug 1997 00:59:36 -0500

[Discussion being split due to 20K letters.]

Anders Sandberg wrote:
> "Eliezer S. Yudkowsky" <> writes:
> > Speaking of escape, there's another workaround for "destruction by induction".
> > If you run into space, the gray goo might hurl itself after you, but it won't
> > have the overwhelming resources required for "destruction by induction". In
> > addition, the effort of destruction might simply provide the city with a
> > velocity boost. Certainly things in space will be different than on the ground.
> Another good point. While I believe in active shields, space is IMHO the only
> really proven form of defense against goo.

A retreat to space is the most likely method of negating the sea's strategic
advantages, leaving the local tactical advantages of home ground. Even if the
goo can fling unlimited missiles after you, they'll be defeated, and their
material consumed, only adding to your size. Even so, spacegoers might be
vulnerable to being surrounded, or having their light cut off. But any city
on a planet is untenable, since the planet might turn into a sea. If you have
all the material you're using, leave for space while you still can.

So then we have the following scenario:

1. Drexler (for example) gets nanotech in some hidden laboratory.

2. (Dictator phase. These actions are taken without debate.)
A. Drexler disables all nuclear weapons.
B. If there is any obvious and safe way to do so, human bodies are
strengthened to survive the coming disruption.
C. Drexler builds a fortress for himself and hides within.
D. Drexler announces nanotech.

3. (Monopoly phase. Debate, but only Drexler has nanotech.)
Drexler directs the nanotech to take each city, build it a Colony, and fling
it into space. He might also give some mechanism whereby an individual can
request his own Colony; I'd want one.
Drexler also directs the nanotech to build a transit system between Colonies;
and to build some huge number of spare Colonies so individuals or fringe
groups can have them.
He doesn't have to disturb the surface of the Earth (except for all the
missing cities); he can use the sea floor for raw material, and even bring up
a lot of extra sea floor in case we need more. Maybe even the asteroids would
suffice; would there be enough of each element?
Sweeping the Earth for farmers would be harder and more arbitrary, but it
could still be done.
At the end of phase three, Earth is depopulated. All inhabitants are
compartmentalized in space, either in Earth orbit or spread through Earth's
orbit. Note that this whole phase has to take place in minimum time, and that
Drexler has to do it all himself. (This suggests, in practical terms, that
nanotech centers should have complete plans for Colonies always on hand. And
we might start looking for popular consent... bearing in mind that there'll be
a lot of "I *like* Earth" whining until actual nanotech is demonstrated. But
it needn't come as a shock.)
Even so, can one person do all the nano-design work involved? I don't know.
I should think we'd need high-level crystalizable designs, the physical
equivalent of pseudo-code. Can we do that? Right now? What would be needed
to do that right now, in terms of cash and computer power?
Since the whole point of this is to avoid spreading contamination, and to
avoid the goo gaining an overwhelming material superiority, the Colonies
should really orbit the Sun, be at least 10,000,000 miles from Earth or any
other planet, and be at least 100,000 miles from each other.

4. (Nanotech phase.)
Drexler makes nanotech freely available and abdicates. The goo cannot become
a sea due to lack of available material; it must spread by spores and
therefore immunity is workable. It might be necessary to implement primitive
'mune in the colonies before GNUing nanotech. All such systems will
necessarily be primitive, however, because they will be implemented only by
one person and designed only by whatever pre-nano team does the pseudocode.

In this situation, I'd go off alone, above the ecliptic, and far away from
everyone else, maybe snagging an asteroid along the way to use for raw
material. I'd remain in communication, using what 'tech became available and
offering my own suggestions. But mainly, I'd be experimenting with neural reprogramming.

I don't know how the rest of the populace would take it. I don't know how the
Extropians would take it. I don't know whether warfare could be devastatingly
prosecuted on that scale, with nukes and lasers disrupting the fragility of
space. I don't know what kind of mutual defense treaties would be organized.
I don't know what countries would survive. I don't know what life will be
like. I don't know what the Singularity ETA would be.


We'd have nanotech. And, if not safe, at least we wouldn't be doomed. This,
I think, is more or less the minimum change in rules for nano 'mune to work.

-- Disadvantages.

1: What if there's an enormous advantage for offense over defense in space -
not in nano 'mune, but in ordinary warfare? What if one Colony can, in a
first strike, wipe out a thousand others? Will we be safe from the goo, only
to be devoured by each other?

2: I can't help but think that at least some dictatorial powers are going to
be needed to evacuate the Earth.

3: How many Colonies will succumb to gray goo within themselves, from foolish
experiments? What percentage will survive? What percentage will be left?

4: How does Drexler, all by himself, do all this? What's the minimum size of
the Nano King's Court?

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

Disclaimer:  Unless otherwise specified, I'm not telling you
everything I think I know.