Re: Goo prophylaxis

Nicholas Bostrom (
Sun, 31 Aug 1997 15:31:03 +0000

Carl Feynman wrote:

> The non-leading labs have a vital advantage: they will know at least the
> vague outlines of what works.
[interesting WWII example deleted]

As Drexler has said, there is a difference between know-how and
know-what. But yes, they will have an advantage -- an advantage
relative to the state of the leading power before it had developed
nanotech. But relative to the state of the leading power at the time
in question, they would of course still be at a disadvantage.

We need to clarify the issue:

Let's simplify and assume that we can get to advanced nanotech
through the sequence of discoveries N0, N1, ..., Na...

In no particular order:

N(1997) is where we are today.

Nredgoo-i is where universally destructive goo of generation i can be
made. (i=0 is red goo that could extinguish all intelligent life if
there were no immune system.)

Nimmune-i is where a (global) immune system can be build
to deal with red goo of generation i or lower.

Nimmune-abc is where a good nanodefence against ABC and conventional
warfare is possible

Nsuperintelligence is where superintelligence can be built.

Ncad++ is where nanotech gives substantial imrovements to nanodesign
computers (hardware of software)

Ncommersial is where nanotech can be used to make large commersial
profits (>1 billion$)

Ngeneralassembler --self explanatory


It seems that what you are arguing is that even if
N(leader)>>N(competition) at some early stage, it still holds
that (F1), for every i,

(N(leader)>=Nredgoo-i and N(leader)>=Nimmune-abc)
N(competition)>=Nimmune-i or there is a j such
that N(competition)>=Nredgoo-j and N(leader)<Nimmune-j

Design-ahead efforts might mean that when enabling technologies
arrive, a lot of designs can be immediately implemented.

Advancement of technology means shorter design-cycles means a given
cronological time difference corresponds to a greater technological
lag. If not sooner, this design-cycle acceleration will occur when
machine intelligence begins to be developed.

These are reasons against (F1)

But even if (F1) were true, it would still not follow that we
could have a stable multipolar nanotech world order. Military balance
need not imply military stability. Two fighting men with guns pointed
to each other's heads are in power balance, but their situation isn't
stable. (This example is from Drexler.) It takes an aditional
argument to establish (F2) that a first strike won't be

>(If you would
> care to claim that it is possible to profit from an advance in nanotech
> without providing valuable clues as to its nature, I would be happy to argue
> that in detail.)

Good. Note that it is not necessary for my position that such
commersal benefit is possible. However, I think it is. We could for
example mass produce certain medicines that can also be made without
nanotech but only at great cost. The same holds for a number of other
products. We could even sell things that aren't possible to make
without nanotech without revealing too much about how we bootstraped
the tools necessary to make them.

Nicholas Bostrom

*Visit my transhumanist web site at*