Re: An Argument Against Privacy was: Openness.

Hal Finney (
Thu, 19 Nov 1998 19:48:28 -0800

Paul Hughes wrote:
> I agree that when we enter a world where full VR mediated mental telepathy
> exists with very strong encryption, a couple of the points I made become
> moot. However, I still think gnatbots will make it nearly impossible in
> the foreseeable future for people to hide what they do in *meatspace*
> - from their sex lives to hiding the latest top-secret test vehicle at
> 'Area 51'.

To answer this we need to have a more detailed model of the gnatbots and of any countermeasures.

There is a limitation to the visual acuity possible to a bug that is literally the size of a gnat. I believe Brin suggested that it might need to land and inflate a lens in order to get good visual images. This could make such bugs a lot easier to detect (depending on how big the lens is).

The gnat needs to be able to record information, or else transmit it. If it is transmitting it probably needs considerable power to get through walls, etc., and can be detected. Recording is going to require extreme compactness, depending on how much data it has to hold. We've all seen how even a few seconds of audiovisual data eats the megabytes.

It seems to me that a literal "gnatbot", the size of a gnat, able to capture visual and sound imagery for several hours, then fly somewhere and transmit it, is going to come pretty close to requiring full Drexlerian nanotech. I don't see it as something which is going to happen in the near future. We can put it safely out in the fuzzy nanotech region of the 2020s or so.

Given Drexlerian nanotech, it would be relatively easy to maintain a "clean room" environment where objects as small as gnats are easily detected. Even today's technology can do a lot better than this in chip fabs. If gnatbots ever become possible then we would probably see this technology becoming widespread. Eventually with full nanotech it may be routine in any indoor environment.

> For the fun of it, lets imagine that all of the scenarios in 'X-Files'
> are occurring at some level or another within the echelons of government.
> Granted they may be able to hide all of their communications while
> plotting against the rest of us; however, once they start to implement
> their plans in meatspace, I find it hard to imagine how they could
> possible hide their actions any further. Once they attempt to implement
> those plans in meatspace it becomes public knowledge.

Suppose they decide to test a new psychoactive chemical on the population, a typical X-Files scenario. Much could be accomplished by anonymous instructions to various actors. Various labs fabricate certain organic chemicals, others put them together into mixtures. A manufacturing plant gets a contract for asthma inhalers including the new chemical. A marketing firm is hired to distribute the inhalers for free in a medium sized city. Some thousands of people start acting a little wacky.

Conceivably someone could trace the chain backwards once they are alerted to the problem, but they'd need to be experts to really figure out what is going on. And the shadowy figures behind the scenes are never connected to the activities.