Re: SCI and ECON Nanatech

Dr. Rich Artym (
Thu, 19 Sep 1996 03:53:06 +0100

In message <>, Robin Hanson writes:

> The last message I saw in the thread was by me, of Aug 13, which concluded:
> >Instead of offering an analysis in support of your claims, as I asked
> >for, you continue to just repeat your claims. What you need to do is
> >offer some analysis to support them.

You're right that you wrote the last item in that thread, 'Community redux'.
I've just gone back and reread it, and now I recall why I dismissed it out
of hand: what you wrote can effectively be paraphrased as "nothing much
will change". If that's your view then there's no arguing with it.

Nanotech will introduce a factor never before present in the history of
mankind: the means to replicate THE MEANS OF PRODUCTION from elements
freely available in the environment. If you reckon that the effect of
this will not be revolutionary then your imagination lags far behind that
of most people on these two mailing lists. Once the means of production
can be tailored at will and replicated at the point of need, production
itself is no longer limited by capital and manpower, only by the presence
of the required feedstock and energy. That is an utterly collosal change
to the effective limits to growth today, and is most certainly not just
an evolutionary change.

Have a ponder about the Guy Fawkes scenario or about total honeycombing
of the Earth's crust with communication, water and raw-material pipelines,
and then try to deliver your message of "no major change". And such
things are just the start of it, easily achievable by one person alone
once quite basic nanotech is available, requiring nothing complicated
like AI/SI might entail. Just to bring it really home, if a person can
program a nanosystem to create (say) a saltwater pipeline which extends
itself a short distance into the rock under his property, he or she can
in principle create a pipeline extending into the nearest ocean, WITHOUT
requiring any extra capital or manpower or any other resources. Such
power in the hands of everyman completely destroys the basis of our
current economy, which is founded on the maxim that it is more or less
impossible for any single person to do anything major in a material
sense by him/herself, needing to *purchase* everything, which keeps
the economy rolling and allows governments to reel in taxes.

Your reply didn't address this basic change at all, Robin. The only
reasonable counters that I have read are those that suggest that either
the designs of desireable items will be kept clone-proof (which I find
not at all convincing, especially since I am from the GNU software camp
and fully expect the future FNF to be a leading force in nanodesign ---
I myself intend to assist in that); and, those that say that manufacture
will effectively become a service industry, creating bespoke designs for
people that obviously don't want to be bothered with creating everything
they need or want themselves. I agree with the latter, although I don't
see why creating *anything* that has been made before should be any more
difficult than programming your washing machine --- the user interface
is surely the simplest thing to make joe-public-friendly.

The hard part is bootstrapping ourselves from bulk technology to the
very different world of nanotech, but once that is achieved then all
bets are off as to the shape of the planet. The Drexlerian camp works
very hard to stay for the most part within application areas that the
status quo will not find too fantastic to believe, but the reality of
the matter is that their examples are only the beginning, and are all
exceedingly tame. If your premise is that nanotech won't happen then
that might be something to argue, but if you accept that it will happen
yet you don't accept that the consequences will be unimaginably massive
and all-embracing then I find nothing to discuss at all: we would be
inhabiting completely disjoint thought spaces.


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