Re: NANO: Institutional Safety

David Blenkinsop (
Sun, 14 Nov 1999 23:24:11 -0600

Earlier, wrote:



> Blenkinsop) wrote:
> > . . . are there any
> > really bright ideas for lessening possible dangers of nanotech . ..
> A small group of folks associated with Foresight got together and talked
> about this question in February of this year. We produced a short paper
> . . . The best
> suggestion we could come up with was to try to emulate the process that
> occurred with genetic technology in the 1970s, where a regime of
> self-regulation developed and was slowly adopted into regulatory law. In
> short, the group suggested . . .[proscription of free replicators]
> . . . and some technical safeguards against
> mutation.
> The group was not optimistic that these measures could completely and
> reliably prevent a nanotech disaster.

Here's a bothersome point that I was reminded of on reading Greg Egan's novel _Diaspora_ (though I'm sure it's been a nano-concern all along), namely the danger of a deliberate, exponential, military buildup. In the _Diaspora_ novel, the transhuman societies somehow maintain what they think of as a wisely nonexponential or nonexpansive security arrangement, where they leave enormous tracts of natural resources completely untouched. This despite the fact that they could very readily get into colonial competition for settling those resources -- or for using them to build an overwhelming force of arms. No fighting over the resources of asteroid Ceres for them, their Coalition has voting Ceres a mineral preserve, or something, and that is that!

In reality, it isn't at all obvious how to nonviolently settle sovereignty claims over newly accessed resources, or what sort of beaurocracy one should trust with administering any nature preserves, or Neutral Zones. Also, if there are sovereign states that you don't trust, how do you know what kind of offense they may be developing under cover, on their own turf? For instance, I don't know, myself, that recent bombings of Iraq have done anything effective to control hidden bioweapons, so what if we were dealing with a nanofactory driven arms race instead? Seemingly, if two sides get into an exponential arms race, this is a recipe not only for fighting over space resources, but also for converting the Earth's surface into a shell of nanoweapons. Or, have I missed something here, something about "exponential rate of capital increase" that I don't understand?

Seems like I'm having a logical pessimism attack, here, or something. First, space settlements seem problematic, at least in the "pre-matter compiler era". Now, it's far from apparent how to avoid getting swamped in a fast buildup of weapons, even if you try to class some weapons as "defensive" in character! Basically, we need the Coalition of Polises to come around and just bomb the heck out of anyone who violates the Neutral Zone conventions -- say, maybe it's not that hard a problem, if the Powers That Be are tough enough?

David Blenkinsop <>