Re: Fears of nanotech

Robert J. Bradbury (
Fri, 27 Aug 1999 19:30:48 -0700 (PDT)

On Fri, 27 Aug 1999, Kathryn Aegis wrote:

> Clint O'Dell writes:
> I have described nanotechnology and the future of it as described in Eric
> >Drexler's book "Engines of Creation" and most are scared to death of it!
> >One young women I spoke with last week knew that it is just around the
> >corner just from my description of a working concept, and stated she doesn't
> >want to be here when it happens. She knows however it will happen within
> >her life time. I'm afraid many people like her and other people I've
> >mentioned it to will protest.
> >
> >Can anyone give me some ideas on how to counter this fear?

I'm always fond of this observation (from Nanomedicine 8.5.1 Cytometrics): The human body contains:

  ~28.5 trillion red blood cells
  ~ 1.4 trillion platelets
  ~ 0.77 trillion white cells/lymphocytes
  ~ 3.4  trillion tissue cells (liver, brain, etc.)
  ~40    trillion bacterial cells (mostly in the colon)

So you have ~ 40 trillion self-replicating nanomachines (a.k.a. bacteria) in your body. In fact we couldn't live without them.

What is fascinating to me is that since RBC's have no genetic program, foreign genetic programs in your body outnumber your genetic programs at least 10:1!

There are interesting ideas beginning to circulate in the immunology community that various "modern" afflictions (asthma, allergies, autoimmune diseases) may be the result of our "hygenic" environment relative to that of evolutionary times. Our lack of exposure to mycobacteria in the water supply or parasites in our food may be creating an imbalance between the cell-mediated and antibody-mediated [TH1/TH2] "arms" of the immune system. In one case a physician has even gone so far as to infect his patients with relatively harmless parasitic worms.

So, now you propose to your disbelieving friend -- "Given the problem with our hygenic environment and some of the ailments it causes, what would you prefer -- to be infected with with more worms or other parasites which have programs that may evolve into something more dangerous (because after all, we represent "food" to many of these organisms, and genetic programs *can* mutate), or would you prefer to have nice little nanobots that were designed and carefully reviewed and approved by review boards injected into your body to "manage" these conditions?" [It should be noted that the conditions may end up beng managed by various vaccines or very specific drugs once the interactions are understood, so "nanobots" are not a strictly necessary solution for these situations (unlike some others where no vaccine/drug equivalent could exist).]

In general reading Nanomedicine will provide you with a whole set of things that you could use as lures into nanotechnology. [Do you want a body that can resist the accidental damage caused by snipers in drive by shootings? Do you want to be able to survive heart failure? etc. etc.]

> Some of its
> ramifications are quite 'scary', in that they compel you to move out of a
> comfortable structure of thought into something untested and open-ended.

Reality bites! :-)

> That is one of the reasons it might be good to present general
> transhumanist ideas first, to provide a basis of reference,
> then get into nanotech.

I would start by presenting them with the idea of growing a Bill Gates mansion first. Most people are going to say "whats in it for me". If you tell them that they can remain a human living the lifestyle of a billionaire and never have to work another day first, then you can begin to get into "life-extension", then perhaps the transhumanist and uploading ideas. But I would suggest a big time delay while the "grok" the ideas what nanotech gives them before you deal with the upsets caused by the concept of evolving oneself or eliminating the human race (which is what must come to mind when you say "transhumanism").