Re: Fear of Nanotech 2

Eliezer S. Yudkowsky (
Thu, 09 Sep 1999 14:33:28 -0500

"Robert J. Bradbury" wrote:
> Now, the scenario I proposed [A] was that *if* S. had used B/C on
> Israel *and* there were a significant loss of life, they would
> have responded, justifiably(?) with nuclear weapons. I base
> this on my read of Israels willingness to use preemptive military
> force to prevent "crazies" from obtaining such weapons so that
> they will be able to play this trump card for a few more years.
> [this is my "political" thinking, good or bad.]

*What*? Israel blew up Iraq's Osiris reactor back in 1980 (a bit before my time, but I think I'm remembering properly) because they didn't want Iraq nuking them, not because they wanted to be able to threaten Iraq.

> In (B), I suspect that the U.S. would have withstood this for
> some time, probably added an aircraft carrier or two and
> really stepped up the conventional response. I do not
> think we would have "lightly" used the nuclear response.
> Only if it were clear that the B/C were causing *extreme*
> levels of casualties, would this have been justified.

If Saddam tried using B/C on the U.S., they would, yes, "really step up" the conventional response - go into Iraq without worrying about civilian casualties and remove Saddam from power. I seriously doubt nuclear weapons would be even considered unless B/C was used on American citizens. (Citizens of other, lesser countries don't count. Only our citizens. That American self-centeredness again.)

> On the two occasions when nuclear was used, I was taught it was
> because of the expected loss of life an invasion of Japan would
> have required. Iwo Jima had cost 6,800 men; 25,800 casualties.
> Okinawa had cost 16,000 men; 68,000 casualties. I believe
> the casualty estimates for an invasion of Japan were > 100K.
> Now, it is interesting that I was recently told by a Russian
> friend, that they are taught that the American's had no need to
> use the bomb, since (a) Japan would have been facing the combined
> American & Russian armies and (b) Japan was on its last legs
> and would have surrendered soon anyway. The Russians generally
> believe we used the bomb simply to demonstrate to them that
> we had it and weren't afraid to use it.

I'm willing to believe that. I view the Hiroshima/Nagasaki bombing as being a hideously bad decision from a planetary perspective, but I suppose I can't entirely blame Truman for not realizing that 100K American casualties are actually fairly trivial compared to a 1% increase in risk taken by the entire planet. As it is, it's been established that the U.S. thinks it's okay to use weapons of mass destruction if nobody else has them. Great precedent for nanotech.

> > I mean, seriously, forget for a moment that you're American. Imagine
> > yourself as a foreigner reading this discussion, realising that
> > ordinary Americans believe that they should be able to attack
> > any other country which annoys them, for any reason, and if that
> > other country decides to defend itself with the only effective
> > weapons it has, those Americans believe that they are perfectly
> > justified in vaporizing foreign cities containing millions of
> > civilians in retaliation.
> I believe this statement to be an *extreme* distortion and
> misinterpretation of the discussion!

I don't. Mark didn't say that was the truth (although I think it's the truth), but it certainly is the foreign perception.

> *AND* the people who
> contributed to it by making statements that *might* be
> misinterpreted may want to keep this in mind in the future
> [myself included!].

> I note that nowhere in the discussion has there been any explanation
> for why any of Saddam's actions were justified.

Who knows, who cares? What we're discussing, and trying to discuss realistically, is how to navigate a war without frying the planet.

> Also, to move back to nanotechnology, the interesting thing
> about it (unlike Bio/Chem weapons) is that it is highly probable
> that it *does* allow *extremely* surgical strikes. You sprinkle
> nanodust all over the city with a program that says:
> "Does this man's voice print match 'Saddam Hussein'?"
> "If yes, put him to sleep for the next year."

And this is a good thing? Seems to me like begging for escalation by offering extremely attractive things to do with a First Use of Nanoweapons.

> The problem becomes would a government (or a dictator like S.)
> carefully monitor your actions...
> "Is this person planning to flee the country to avoid
> paying his share of the national debt..."
> "If yes, take over his mind and prevent him from thinking those
> thoughts."

Why bother with that? "If the person leaves the country, blow his head off unless he has a permit." That simple.

           Eliezer S. Yudkowsky
Running on BeOS           Typing in Dvorak          Programming with Patterns
Voting for Libertarians   Heading for Singularity   There Is A Better Way