NANO: Lessons learned

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Wed, 03 Sep 1997 19:42:50 -0500

I don't think it's time for a consensus yet, especially since we still all
disagree, but my own points-in-progress are utterly different from the four
mentioned by Nicholas Bostrum.

I offer these assertions:

1. Given an island vs. sea battle, the sea will win, whether the "island" is
a malevolent spore or a city.

2. As the world stands, nanotechnology cannot be freely distributed.

3. Unintentional gray goo is not a serious problem.

Given an island vs. sea battle, decisive strategic and tactical advantages lie
with the sea.

1a: This holds true whether the "island" is a spore battling a 'mune
system, or a city battling attack goo. The island will not gain any ground
against the sea, and will probably be eliminated.

1b: Personal immune systems are feasible as a defense against death goo.

1c: Immune systems are NOT effective against large-scale outbreaks. That
requires large-scale defense nano armed with nuclear weapons.

1d: Attack goo cannot be allowed to gain a sizable foothold; therefore
there must not be any sizable global area unprotected by an immune system. If
nanotech can survive in the Earth's core, there must be an immune system there.

1e: Except for a few nano-free fallback asteroids, all massive objects in
the Solar System should be seeded with 'munes as soon as nano is space-capable.

1f: Space is much safer, because one is not automatically surrounded by
huge masses, as one is on a planet.

Five or more governments possessing nanotechnology are dynamically unstable.

2a: Certain governments, such as the Chinese government, are both
repressive and aggressive. They would wreak havoc given nanotech and launch
nuclear attacks if excluded.

2b: Nanotechnology cannot be freely distributed until every person has a
'mune system and a space evacuation capsule.

Unintentional gray goo is a relatively mild danger by contrast.

3a: Strategy and tactics on the molecular level are complex problems
requiring intelligent solutions. Designed attack goo will annihilate
unresisting reproducers; defense goo will be unassailable.

3b: Evolving gray goo is slightly more dangerous, but not much more, unless
it makes a breakthrough that lets it cut through all defenses before they can
be redesigned.

3c: Gray goo, evolving or otherwise, cannot threaten a prepared opponent.
Space travel is not even necessary.

3d: After having prepared for malevolent goo, mere gray goo does not merit consideration.


1. Research into nanotechnology should continue.

2. The first group to gain nanotechnology should immediately disable almost
all nuclear weapons, leaving only enough to obliterate goo outbreaks.

3. Before announcing nanotechnology, the first group should develop
evacuation capsules and crude 'mune. If necessary, they should contact Bill
Gates or the U.S. government.

--       Eliezer S. Yudkowsky

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