RE: NANO: Institutional Safety

Billy Brown (
Tue, 16 Nov 1999 13:21:05 -0600

Rik van Riel wrote:
> If you have a number (say 20) of economically equal
> consortiums rivalling with each other, they'll all do
> what they can to keep their part of the pool.
> This includes making sure that the others play by the
> rules and that no consortium grows too strong. Since
> every one of those consortiums will usually have 19
> others opposing it when it doesn't play by the rules,
> there's a pretty good incentive to play it safe.

Great, so we have a situation like Renaissance Italy - oh, wait, that wasn't very peaceful, was it? Well, how about Germany before unification (ah, no, lots of wars there). Feudal Japan? Modern day Africa? Hmm, this doesn't seem to be working out...

The problem with a 'balance of power' approach to stability is that you can never have a perfect balance. Different countries vary significantly in both their actual power and their willingness to use it, and that inevitably leads to a certain amount of jockeying for position. Obvious attempts at world conquest will be resisted (like Napoleonic France), but more subtle efforts with more limited goals will often succeed. Over time the relative strengths of the different powers will vary, and sooner or later you'll get a situation where someone can actually win one of those wars of world conquest.

Besides, the best known way to prepare for a future war is to keep the peace and encourage domestic growth through low taxes and minimal regulation. If you ever get far enough ahead in the economic race you can mobilize the military fairly quickly, and in the meantime you can put up a convincing impression of innocence. How does an association of equals deal with this problem (and would we really want it to)?

> The ideal goverment system would be strong enough to keep
> going independantly of the will of the players.

Really? I think the ideal system would be one where there aren't any sovereign states in the first place. Of course, I don't know how to build such a society, but I do know how to do a lot better than the 'strong central government' approach.

> War is already economically unfeasible. It's been a few
> hundred years since we last had a war where the winner
> also came out with an economical benefit.
> As more and more countries are converted to market
> economies and the fundamentalists can no longer compete
> (economics will always defeat idealism) wars will cease
> to be commonplace.

Since when are wars about economics? OK, maybe some of them are, but that is usually the case only in small wars where neither side has any intention of actually destroying the other.

Big, nasty wars tend to be fought over hate, fear, or ignorance. Either we want to kill all those weird people on the other side of the hill who talk funny, or we are afraid they are going to come kill us, or we think (usually incorrectly) that we will gain some great benefit by ruling both sides of the hill. Frankly, I don't see any of these motivations going away until we can change human nature.

> Also, such a spread out mankind will make it impossible to form
> superpowers. That is because the communications delay inside
> such an empire will be too large to have every subpower in such
> a coalition react as one or even have them have the same opinion
> on things.
> Coalitions like that have failed to do that even during the cold
> war; the Romans and Gengiz Kahn (sp) have shown us that the
> maximum feasible communications delay between different parts of
> an empire is about one week, with the time to military intervention
> in those remote areas having a maximum of about 4 times that.

You must be reading a different history book. In mine, usually took more like a month to get a message across either of the states you mention, and armies could take the better part of a year to arrive. The Persian empire had even longer delays, and so did the British empire back in the age of sail.

The fundamental constraint is simply that the central government must be able to act swiftly enough to prevent the provinces from successfully rebelling. It is not at all clear how the combination of long life spans, increased intelligence and nanotech manufacturing will affect this equation. It should also be noted that in more modern states the constraints are greatly relaxed by the fact that the provinces don't want to rebel in the first place.

> Indeed. When a cup full of nanites could be enough to destroy
> a major part of a civilisation, who will be taking that risk?

But it can't. See my other post on this thread for details.

> Every consortium should have diplomats stationed at the others,
> each having a bunch of bezerker nanites with them, to be unleashed
> when the civilisation they are stationed has crossed the limit.
> Could the threat of mutually assured destruction be any stronger
> than this?

That isn't a threat at all. A small cache of Nanobots can't do anything at all to an equally advanced civilization that is prepared for nanowar. The best you can hope for is to kill a small group of civilians - somewhat like a modern terrorist bombing.

> A good plan doesn't waste resources (in the eyes of the others)
> and doesn't threaten the others. As soon as one consortium starts
> implementing a plan that endangers the others or is too wasteful
> with resources (again, in the eyes of the others), it will be
> curbed.

So, if anyone has the temerity to try to build a J-brain everyone else will nuke them into extinction? No thanks.

Billy Brown, MCSE+I