The mind-boggling nanotech future...

john grigg (
Sat, 28 Aug 1999 14:07:46 PDT

Hello everyone,

I was very blown away by Robert Bradbury's reply to my post. I always thought of nanotech as being used simply as an extension of our present economic system. I still do have some reservations about the future being quite as free and materially bountiful as he depicts but time will tell. I have responded to the reply to my post below.

Date: Thu, 26 Aug 1999 02:34:44 -0700 (PDT) From: "Robert J. Bradbury" <> Subject: Understanding Nanotech [PLEASE READ] [was Re: New government?]

On Tue, 24 Aug 1999, john grigg wrote:


John was reponding to the thread about Free Housing, Free Education free Medical & Dental.

>I think in a society with a mature nanotech it is ethically the right thing
>to make sure all of its citizens have an adequate level of free medical,
>education, housing and food. I feel this is the humane thing to do yet I
>feel it should just be at a level to meet basic needs and not to elevate
>lazy to a grand lifestyle. So for those who want the "good things of life"
>such as a mansion, education at Stanford, gourmet meals, and exotic
>surgery will have to work for it.

I read this statement and started to respond to it

: Well, do you provide that "adequate level" by taxing something and
: giving it away or by letting people design the fundamental requirements
: in an open source mode?

Then I realized that the statement (and many of the previous statements on lots and lots of threads) imply that many people


If you are one of the ones who *really* understands it, then you can trash this message now.

Nanotech comes down to *3* essential things: mass, energy & designs.

Now, where does the mass for nanotech come from: O/N/C - from air
Si/Al/Ca/Mg/Ca/Fe/Na/K/P - from dirt/rocks Almost everything else - from seawater So, where does the energy come from? The sun obviously. Where do the designs come from? Open source one would hope.

It is worth noting that over the history of civilizations we have put 185 petagrams of carbon into the atmosphere [1]. That works out to about 31,000 kg/person. We probably don't want to remove more carbon than that from the atmosphere.

Now given these basic principles, I ran around the net, uncovered a lot of interesting factoids and ran some numbers. Here is what we get:

First, you spend $2,200 and go buy yourself an acre of land in Arizona. For those textropian readers, you probably have that much already so you don't have to go anywhere :-). For the latecomers, you will simply have to buy more land in a less sunny area (like North Dakota).

Then you get your open-source nanoseed to assemble solar collectors over most of the property. At an insolation of ~1000 W/m^2 and 0.2 conversion efficiencies (pretty conservative), that gives you 400,000 watts of power during the day. Assuming a mass manipulation cost of ~15,900 kJ/mol of sapphire (perhaps the highest cost), that lets you nanoassemble ~10 kg of nanomaterial per hour. For this you will need ~10 kg of nanoassemblers, since they have a mass doubling time of ~1 hr [2]. What is the materials cost? $0 because you are taking it out of the air or the ground (except in the case of some rare materials that you have some friend take out of the seawater and FedEx to you).

It turns out that you probably don't want to assemble more than 10 kg/hour because if everyone on the planet is doing it you start to interfere with the heat carrying capacity of the planet [3].

Now, what can you do with this. First you spend about 13 minutes of each day to replicate ~2kg of food. With the time left over (on the first day) you assemble your 100 kg air car (10 hours). This is so you can fly back and forth from Seattle or San Francisco every weekend to check on the progress. Now, you start on your 2600 square foot house (34,000 kg). That takes 5 months to grow. Then you've made a deal with your friend who lives by the ocean to construct a dock for you, so you go to work on your 150' yacht (~225,000 kg). That takes 2.8 years. [Air freight to deliver the yacht to the ocean is extra unless you want to take the time to build a big helicopter.] By now you've had enough time to get your design completed for your new "I too can live like Bill Gates" 40,000 sq ft. mansion so your crew of hardworking nanoassemblers goes to work on that. For ~420,000 kg, that takes 5.1 years. Then I guess you rest. Maybe rent out your nanoassemblers for someone else to build something interesting. So the total time required to live like Bill Gates and never have to work again (i.e. all of your "survival" needs are met) is ~8.3 years.

Presumably some people get there sooner and they end up donating their time to educating people or doing open source designs that gains them an opportunity to go on the $1,000,000 prize show for their generous efforts. Or if they are the commercial types and we still have a patent system, they sell their design at $0.001 each to 6 billion people. That's all the market will pay given the competition from the open source designs. But that's ok since that still nets them $6 million. But unless there is a huge inflation in movie prices, I'm unsure what you would possibly spend it on.

(I tend to think that people will still pay good money in the future for the latest and most technologically advanced designs for various products! This is turn will fuel the corporations that do the research and develop the products. Those with less wealth will settle for the "generic" open source designs. And government and corporate powers may conspire to severely limit what is available as open source designs so they maintain their hold on power.)

Now the only problem with this seems to be that you use up your global atmospheric carbon allocation by the time you finish your small house. So the yacht and mansion are probably going to have to be built out of sapphire instead of diamond. That means that while building your mansion, its a requirement to build a very big swimming pool as well (7% of the crust is Al). I suppose if you really want, you build the mansion first because then you can build the yacht in the pool. Since you've got about 4x as much Si as Al in the crust, its likely that buried in your basement is a 1.3 Mkg supercomputer. The architecture is presumably a lot of ROM or suspend-RAM, since you don't have enough power to use it all as a computer and you certainly don't have enough surface area to cool it even if you did. But you can allocate 1/4 of your power grid to a 1 cm^3 nanocomputer (at 10^5 W). That gives you about 10^21 instructions per second to work on the problem of how you upload yourself into it. More than likely the ROM holds partial-upload backups (yours and others, since you want yours distributed around the planet in case a meteor hits your mansion). Also, don't forget, after a long day, you should go outside in soak in that enormous jacuzzi that the computer has been heating up for you all day.

Now, given all of that, can you reasonably expect any government to be able to hold that back once it becomes clear to people? The nice thing about it is that, even in this country, if I don't work (and can grow everything I need), I don't pay taxes (except the real estate taxes). But if I don't like those I can always live on the yacht.

(Governments may not hold the full power of a mature nanotech back from the people but you can be sure they will STRONGLY regulate it!! Think of the agencies that will enforce all the rules that will surely arise to contain the populace from damaging the ecosphere. Zoning laws fifty years from now should be very interesting! Not too mention the law enforcement efforts that will go into stopping the Ted Kazynski's of the world from being one man war machines of mass destruction.)

If someone can figure out what a Castle weighs I'd love to add that to the list!

> I feel this is the humane thing to do yet I
>feel it should just be at a level to meet basic needs and not to elevate
>lazy to a grand lifestyle. So for those who want the "good things of life"
>such as a mansion, education at Stanford, gourmet meals, and exotic
>surgery will have to work for it.

I really really don't think so!

You *have* to get that with mature nanotech there is *definately* no problem with "adequate" housing, food and almost all transporation. [e.g. anything short of relocating your Castle to Mars is cheap]. If the governments and/or non-profits and/or open source designers and prizes work correctly, you will likely have free medical (technology) as well.

>It is simply that the unambitious citizen of 2100 A.D. will have a
>better then that of a solid middle-class citizen of our own time.

I'd say closer to between 2020 and 2030.

>But he
>may want to set some goals and start achieving them when he sees how the
>folks are doing who applied themselves and are on a far better standard of
>living as they can afford the latest bio-engineering fad for their bodies
>and vacation on the moon! Let us be humane and stamp out disease, lack of
>proper education and poverty, yet still award the talented and ambitious.
>We can do both and my vision will occur. We will awaken into this world
>when we who are cryonically suspended are reanimated.

People won't have a "far better standard of living", except in that they can purchase more fancy entertainment or could have more fame and recognition. Fame & recognition will tend to replace material success presumably, in a nanotech world. Fame will probably not be that interesting because I suspect most people like the idea of being "famous" because of the perks that go along (nice houses, cars, etc.). If you can have all of those things why would you want the headaches of the fans & paparazzi? So that leaves only "recognition". Presumably you get recognized for doing *cool* designs and donating them to the public.

(I was thinking more along the lines of early stage nanotech having read your post and given things thought. The social impact of a mature nanotech that I think we may have by 2050 will be truly STAGGERING. Again I was thinking of this technology within the paradigm of the present economic and social models.)

(The things brought up in this topic as being changed by nanotech such as medical care, housing, food, transporatation and education will all be available for free or very cheap to the common citizen! With the average home having access to powerful A.I. I can see how even impressive levels of medical care and education could be very cheaply or freely available.)

(But still in this nanotech/information age the latest and most technologically advanced devices and software will be prized and also be of status symbol importance most likely. And the corporations that take pains to develop this will want a return for their work! But perhaps to buy myself a new car design from Porsche for just $1.00 I will just have to put up with pop-up advertisements!! Then again because of the brand name recognition and the quality of their machines I may be paying MUCH more. I'll just settle for a decent quality open source imitator!)

(I admit I do not fully grasp the full social implications of a mature nanotech. It will be mind-blowing! It will be nice to live in a world where poverty will be gone. I just think "keeping up with the Jones" will still be a strong urge in our society and it will be just (at least to old 20th century fogies like all of us!) in a different form with people wanting the latest and most advanced designs to have the fastest skycar, most sophisticated nanobot bio-implants that slow aging even better then the last generation or most capable robot servants for the household. Goods may be plentiful but services especially in the entertainment world may still be relatively expensive. And of course the luxuries we have to pay for we tend to relish the most. And Until aging is conquered that will be a key area where people will expend major wealth to keep it at bay!)

(I will be the guy living in the "poor" neighborhood who "endures" life with a totally out of date A.I., a house that is only ten thousand square feet, only one olympic size swimming pool, only a few dozen robot maids, butlers and handymen, a sky car that is capable of only subsonic speeds and internal nanotech that allows me to change my appearance only once a year unlike all the fashion conscious people around me who do it weekly! It will be a hard life but I will get by somehow! lol!) :)

(I do believe that status will be more achieved by recognition for positive achievement then by mere financial wealth acquired by any means necessary. And we still will love our celebrities but the big mansion and fancy car they drive will simply not impress us the way they do now!!)

(I remember how I first learned of nanotech when I read an article about it by Robert Frietas in a science-fiction monthly. I was amazed and thrilled by what I read!! I made seventeen copies of it and gave them out to my friends to spread the word! I had no idea at that time there were groups out there focused on nanotech as I do now. I got somewhat lukewarm responses from my friends but I still clearly remember the excitement of reading Robert Frieta's article and envisioning the devices he described inside.)

(Then later I read an article in "Scientific American" where nanotech was shown to be facing huge obstacles and the author compared its more radical supporters as being like a South Pacific cargo cult!! I felt totally crestfallen as I read about the article. I doubted that the wonderful machines Robert Frietas had described would ever exist. And yet as time went on and I read more from other sources I realized that despite challenges nanotech was viable and at present very well funded. It feels great to know what seems too good to be true will in fact one day within my lifetime be very real.)

(In summary I want to say this has been very thought provoking for me. I like the idea of a world where every man and women has their own little kingdom made possible my A.I., nanotech and design plan freebies! Of course they will be fiefdoms to the federal governments of the world. I just hope the greed for power and control does not cause the corporate and government elites to stop us from enjoying the full bounty of the nanotech age that is coming.)

(Thank you,

John Grigg)


As an addendum, depending on the costs of extracting carbon from the air, my energy estimates may be conservative by up to 2 orders of magnitude, so things could go much faster than I indicated (or you could buy a smaller plot of land). We have something like ~2 billion acres of land in the U.S. so there is almost an order of magnitude excess per person over the requirements for a cushy living. Those guys & gals living down under, now they are the really lucky ones, their land/person is 2 orders of magnitude over the requirements. And they have a heck of a lot more coastline along which to park all the yachts.

[2] Nanosystems, pg 1 & 441.

[3] Nanomedicine, I believe in Chapter 6: Power.

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