Re: Nanotech control systems (was Re: Transhuman Beach Party)

Matt Gingell (
Wed, 8 Sep 1999 21:53:03 -0400

On 8 Sep 99, at 15:40, Robert J. Bradbury wrote:

> On Wed, 8 Sep 1999, Jeff Davis wrote:
> > In his reply to den Otter,
> >
> > I wrote:
> >
> > > I'm not sure that this is the "consensus". If we got the exponential
> > > growth of nanoassembly tomorrow, we would have *neither* (a) the
> > > designs to build stuff, nor (b) AI to populate the nanocomputers.
> >
> > This seems to suggest that you need ai to populate the nano computers,
> > and I'm not sure that this is the case.

I think this is a fascinating question. I don't have the chemistry background to evaluate claims about the mechanical possibility of nanomachines, but it seems to me that actually building one may well be an easier problem than writing the software. How on earth do you coordinate the behavior of trillions of automata with micrometer precision in a noisy, constantly changing environment, without any finely-grained way of determining position? How do you deal with the problem of mutation? It seems to me that the shear number of nanites, moles of them on a large project, make undetected corruptions inevitable.

We can't get a the new air traffic control system right, or even manage to get baggage delivered correctly at Denver's new airport, and these are 'Hello World' compared to what nanotech would require. And calling this stuff 'safety critical' doesn't really convey the magnitude of the worst case scenario.

I think it's fair to say that the development of software engineering processes has lagged eons behind machine advances and, more importantly, the growth in complexity of the systems we want to build.

> Sorry for any confusion, I did not mean to suggest that you in any way
> need AI to control Nanoassemblers or Nanobots. However, unless our
> engineering design programs get very "smart", AI certainly would be
> useful for us to be able to say (in the voice of Scotty), "Computer,
> design me a yacht".
> I think our engineering programs are going to get to the point where
> they could design at the nano-level all standard mechanical engineered
> "parts" (gears, screws, wheels, robotic arms, etc.) and that is why I
> suggested earlier that the SETI at home approach would be a great use
> for the computers over the next 10 years, if you could come up with
> some heuristics that could say -- yes, this randomly thrown together
> collection of atoms does in fact appear to be a molecular "part".

I recently got to visit Cray Research in Eagen, Minnesota, and was taken on a tour of the machine room. Truly incredible - ranks and ranks of towering processor arrays, submerged, lava-lamp style, in transparent tanks of liquid coolant, and disk packs the size of my apartment. They run SETI at home at a low priority, so when sales isn't trying to optimize a potential customer's Fortran they're all searching for signal.