Re: Goo prophylaxis

Mark Grant (
Wed, 3 Sep 1997 20:33:10 +0000

On Wed, 3 Sep 1997, Nicholas Bostrom wrote:

> We know that making a nanotech
> self-replicator, even given perfect atomic positioning, would be
> non-trivial. It would be useful if it were possible to come to a
> slightly more precise conlusion, say about the order of magnitude of
> the number of "genius-years" required.

I think another important question is: how useful will self-replicating
military nanotech be? Given our experience in the biological realm, I
suspect the answer is not very. Any self-replicating military goo will be
at a disadvantage compared to a mass-produced, optimized, goo-killer,
because it has to carry around all the self-replication machinery while
the goo-killer leaves the factory behind. The goo will only win if it can
reproduce faster than our goo-killer can destroy it, and if we can't find
a simple chemical means of interfering with the replication.

As I understand it, in biology viruses have great potential for harm
because they use the body's own replication machinery, and we can't block
that without killing ourselves. A bacterial infection is much easier to
control, because we can block the bacteria's self-replication machinery
without harming our own. We've also had similar experiences with computer
viruses and 'Core Wars', where the simplest programs normally win, and
modern fighters don't carry an airplane factory on ever mission.

We obviously can't accurately predict the future of nanowar from these
analogies, but they provide some circumstantial evidence that the standard
'world destroyed by self-replicating goo' scenario is less likely than its
proponents believe.


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